Dallas — The Dallas-Fort Worth area is almost an embarrassment of riches when it comes to music. Sure, we have the Dallas and Fort Worth symphonies. We have the Dallas Opera. But also, we have many smaller companies that are performing specialized music brilliantly well. American Baroque Opera Co., now in its second season, is one of these smaller companies, bringing full-scale baroque operas and smaller-scale baroque vocal performances to a variety of venues throughout Dallas.
Their most recent program was a concert in the home of Rhea Edelman and Daniel Medve. With about 30 audience members and five musicians, this was opera on a small scale indeed. Yet it worked beautifully. Instrumental baroque music is particularly well-suited to house concerts; baroque instruments in general do not project as much as modern ones, so they tend not to overwhelm smaller spaces, and a harpsichord fits where a piano cannot.
Music was provided by Rebecca Choate Beasley, soprano; Janelle West, traverso (baroque flute); James Andrewes, violin; Artistic Director Eric Smith, viola da gamba; and Lenora McCroskey, harpsichord.
ABOC’s season is themed “Myths and Legends,” so the performance featured music about Orpheus, Jean-Philippe Rameau’s Orpheé; Ulysses, Élisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre’s Le Sommeil d’Ulisse; and Alcyone and Ceyx, Marin Marais’ Alcyone. On the latter, Beasley served as a competent and pleasing narrator for the otherwise instrumental music, telling Ovid’s gripping story of devoted lovers. When Ceyx is killed in a shipwreck, Alcyone flings herself into the sea, and, as an act of compassion, the gods change them both into bird so that they can be reunited.
The Rameau was especially lovely—Beasley has an appropriately unadorned voice for baroque music, and manages even in her upper range to avoid excess vibrato. The instrumental musicians, including McCroskey, who was a last-minute substitute, were mostly excellent. West, Smith, and Andrewes coaxed appealing sounds from their finicky baroque instruments—hearing the continuo part on harpsichord and viola da gamba was truly special.
It is marvelous, too, to hear work by under-performed composers such as Jacquet de la Guerre. Jacquet de la Guerre was a French child prodigy who once performed on harpsichord for Louis XIV. While she was well-known during her lifetime, she is now seldom heard. If we are to appreciate contemporary women composers, it’s also valuable to recall that women composers aren’t a new phenomenon. It’s just that, historically, women’s music is less likely to be preserved and performed. Jacquet de la Guerre’s Le Sommeil d’Ulisse certainly seems, upon first hearing, to be in the same league as music of her French contemporaries such as Marais, Couperin, and Rameau.
American Baroque Opera Company is a truly special up-and-coming organization, filling a niche that is often underrepresented.