Text, Rhythm, Action!
New Priorities in Historically Informed Performance
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Research Findings here
Early Music – Historically Informed Performance – is based on the hypothesis that music will ‘work better’ if it is performed on its own terms. As knowledge and skills have increased, today’s performers have moved beyond a ‘museum-piece’ approach to make old music doubly authentic – emotionally genuine, as well as historically stylish.
But today most early opera is given in modern productions. The general perception is that historical acting is ‘boring’, ‘ineffective’, or just ‘silly’. But my hypothesis is that
Authentic Action can be Emotionally Effective.
Historical research attempts to understand how they were performing emotions back then. I experiment in rehearsal, putting these old ideas to work today. We test the results in performance with a live audience.
Period Theory & Modern Practice
The historical priorities for ‘early opera’ are clearly stated in well-known sources. Caccini says:
Text, Rhythm, and Sound last of all (not the other way around!).
So I follow these priorities in rehearsal. An hour’s rehearsal will have about 50 minutes of spoken work (text and rhythm), with only 10 minutes singing at the end.
In this music, Rhythm works in a particular way. There is no rubato and no conductor. It’s more like jazz or rock. Each individual performer responsible for the steady heartbeat of the Tactus, about one beat per second.
This concept of Tactus is well accepted by academics, but not by practitioners. But although it’s controversial, our work draws on familiar primary sources and well-accepted secondary literature. What is new is that we apply historical priorities resolutely.
On stage in this period, Quintilian's writings still define the three secrets of great performance: “Action, Action, Action!”
Historical Action is based on Text – ‘Suit the Action to the Word’ – and synchronised by Rhythm.
Action is not merely ‘Baroque gesture’. It depends on full-body posture; the expression of the face and eyes; and the mystic power of the breath, pneuma. It is the outward sign of changes in the Four Humours.
In this period, body awareness skills were cultivated at a high level: courtiers spent several hours each day in dance lessons and swordsmanship classes.
Projects so far include 7 staged early operas, 7 new international concert programs, lots of workshops and videos. We’ve founded a Baroque Opera Studio, and opened a new opera hall.
This year's projects include the earliest surviving Spanish Oratorio and Stefano Landi's 1619 opera La Morte d'Orfeo.
Next year, we create a baroque recitativo about Costa Concordia: Coastguard De Falco and Captain Schettino: “Vada a bordo, canto”.
More about "Text, Rhythm, Action!" projects here
The Early Music movement studies historical Authenticity, stage-work focusses more on the large picture, personal Authenticity. Do we play the old fiddle, or do we roam the stage and burn with passion? We are trying to bridge this gap.