Harlequin Blog Series: The Servant and his Master

By Sarah Baumann, Marketing Director

One of the most-anticipated concerts of our 2018/19 season is the world premiere of The Harlequin Salon in January 2019. Following on the success of the multimedia performances created by double bassist Alison Mackay, these concerts will be created, scripted, and illustrated by oboist Marco Cera. We’ll be writing a monthly Harlequin blog post to take you behind the scenes as this production comes to life!

This January, Tafelmusik will stage an elaborate Roman salon hosted by caricaturist Pierre Leone Ghezzi (portrayed by show creator Marco Cera). Famous guests at the salon will include composer Antonio Vivaldi, 24-year old opera diva Faustina Bordoni, and cello virtuoso Giovanni Bononcini. These guests and their music will be performed by Tafelmusik’s Music Director Elisa Citterio, guest soprano Roberta Invernizzi, and Tafelmusik cellist Christina Mahler.

How else will these performances bring a theatrical flair to the world of Ghezzi and his guests? While reading Ghezzi’s diaries, Marco realised that he wrote about his servants a lot – and that their escapades were similar to those in the famous Carlo Goldoni play, The Servant of Two Masters. This play draws on the traditions of commedia dell’arte, a form of theatre first developed in 16th century Italy, featuring masks, stock characters, and comedic sketches, or “lazzi.” The Harlequin Salon will interweave musical performances with scenes featuring Ghezzi’s servant, Harlequin, played by Toronto actor Dino Goncalves.

We asked Marco what kind of trouble we can expect from Goncalves’ character: “He’s going to animate and host the party for the audience, get into trouble, and attempt to seduce our opera singer, Faustina. This will lead her to play a trick in turn on him in return. Hijinx will definitely ensue!”

Harlequin, or Arlecchino, is the best-known of the comic servant characters from commedia dell’arte. He is known for his chequered costume, and is light-hearted, nimble, and astute, often acting to thwart the plans of his master, in order to pursue his own love interests. Will he succeed in winning the heart of Faustina Bordoni and not bringing the party crashing down around him? We hope you will join us to find out!

This blog series will continue in November and December. Here is the link to the first post, Marco meets Ghezzi.

The Harlequin Salon premieres January 16-20, 2019 at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre. Click here to buy your tickets now.

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Harlequin Blog Series: Marco Meets Ghezzi

By Sarah Baumann, Marketing Director

One of the most-anticipated concerts of our 2018/19 season is the world premiere of The Harlequin Salon in January 2019. Following on the success of the multimedia performances created by double bassist Alison Mackay, these concerts will be created, scripted, and illustrated by oboist Marco Cera. We’ll be writing a monthly Harlequin blog post to take you behind the scenes as this production comes to life!

Marco moved from Italy to Toronto to play with Tafelmusik from 2000–2002 and rejoined the orchestra in January 2007. A passionate painter (Marco studied figurative art at Liceo Artistico Citta’ di Valdagno in Italy), as well as multi-instrumentalist, he first encountered the sketches of Pier Leone Ghezzi (1674–1755) as references. “Ghezzi left behind more than 4,000 drawings depicting Roman society from the baroque era. These have become important for musicians now,” he explains. “They provide a great deal of detail on the musical instruments, hairstyles, furniture, posture, and lifestyle of musicians from the time.”

Ghezzi was an Italian artist who was probably the world’s first professional caricaturist. Marco points out that the word “caricature” comes from the Italian “caricare” or “to load, overload, exaggerate.” Caricatures exaggerate the features of the person in the portrait in order to create a comic or grotesque effect.

Ghezzi was an enthusiastic music lover, who held exclusive musical salons at his palazzo for a “who’s who” of Roman intellectuals and artists. His most well-known portrait is the famous caricature of Antonio Vivaldi.

Antonio Vivaldi by Pier Leone Ghezzi

Marco started to research the composers that Ghezzi would have met and sketched, starting with Vivaldi. He dreamed up a salon that would feature several of these personalities: Vivaldi, the famous prima donna Faustina Bordoni, and renowned cellist Giovanni Bononcini. The concert started to take shape: recreate one of Ghezzi’s famous salon evenings for the Tafelmusik audience, and imagine what happens (and what music results) when these famous characters from the time meet!

Marco Cera looking at a Ghezzi sketch

This blog series will continue in October, November and December. Stay tuned!

The Harlequin Salon premieres January 16-20, 2019 at Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre. Click here to buy your tickets now

Baroque 101: “C’est L’anche Qui Donne La Vie!”

By Marco Cera, oboe

Marco Cera, oboe. Photo by Sian Richards
Marco Cera, oboe

As a double-reed player I often get asked questions about my reeds. Why is a reed made out of bamboo? How long does a reed last? Where do you buy them? Why is it called “double reed”? Well, the topic is very complex and it would take a week-long symposium just to scratch the surface. Here I offer some useful information to satisfy your curiosity!

The term “double reed” comes from the fact that there are two pieces of cane vibrating against each other. A single reed consists of one piece of cane that vibrates against a mouthpiece. Double-reed instruments include the oboe and the bassoon; single-reed instruments include the clarinet and saxophone.

The role of the reed on the oboe and bassoon has been compared to that of the bow on the violin. The reed is the tool that produces the sound, and that allows the player to control dynamics, intonation, tone quality, articulation, and expression. In other words, it is the reed that gives life to the music: “C’est l’anche qui donne la vie!”

As you can imagine, delicate and fragile reeds are very crucial tools for oboists and bassoonists, and the struggle to find the perfect reed never ends! The importance of finding a good reed was well known already in the baroque era. In his famous treatise of 1752, Quantz wrote: “As for the tone quality of these two instruments [oboe and bassoon] much depends on the quality of the reed, and specifically, whether it is made of good, well-seasoned cane, whether it has the appropriate diameter that is neither too wide, nor too short, and that it is scraped neither too thinly nor left too thick.”

Musicians as Craftsmen

Most oboists spend a large part of their time making reeds: more than they actually spend playing their instrument! By necessity, oboe and bassoon players are not only musicians, but also craftsmen. Buying a baroque reed in a music store is not a possibility: there are few options available in the market, and they are low quality. There is very little documentation describing reed-making before 1780, which presents another challenge for those players who, like me, are dedicated to the baroque oboe and early reeds. There must have been a rich oral tradition handed down from teacher to student in the baroque era, which is forever lost to us.

Even though the internet offers articles on a scientific approach to reed-making — studies on the physics and engineering of a reed — I find the subject to be very mysterious and controversial. This might explain the curious inclination of oboists to sit for hours discussing reed scrapes, staples dimensions (staples are the metal tubes that hold the reed), diamond stones for knifes sharpening … sometimes even blaming climate change or global warming for the poor quality of the cane they are using!

The Process

The making of a reed starts by choosing the right material. Oboe players have been using a specific species of cane called arundo donax (a plant similar to bamboo) for centuries. Musical sources from the early nineteenth century spoke of the superior qualities of the cane in Frejus, near Marseille. This is the area from which most reed players still get their cane today.

The lengthy and laborious process of making a reed includes gouging, soaking, shaping, tying, scraping, refining … I’m sure it sounds like fun, but I can guarantee that this never-ending task can become quite … boring! (I have met oboe players who tried to teach their wives to make reeds to avoid the job!)

Personally, I like to concentrate my reed-making work during the summer. I spend my summers in Italy and my theory is that the weather, landscape, good food, and social support from reed-geek friends help me to succeed in the often tedious duty.

The worst of it is that most of the reeds an oboist makes turn out to be unusable. Oboe reeds are notoriously unpredictable since they are made from cane, an organic material. A finished reed that starts by emitting a few perfect notes may die abruptly in the middle of a concert. Another reed can last for weeks, survive the dry winter in Toronto, and end the season in triumph!


Students in reed-making class at Tafelmusik Baroque Summer Institute


Our children’s album, Baroque Adventure : The Quest for Arundo Donax will entice the imagination of young listeners and their parents alike!

 


Hear Marco perform in Four Weddings, a Funeral, and a Coronation, Nov 29-Dec 3, 2017 at Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre.