Being Baroque in Burgos

I went to Spain to sing in an opera (Cavalli’s rarely performed Gli amori d’Apollo e di Dafne) . We had four days to rehearse. What were we thinking!? I have no clue. But there was an opera just the same! While I wasn’t entirely pleased with my performance, I had a fabulous time meeting lots of other singers (of all ages and career stages), learning how to be more Baroque (it’s all about the elegantly asymmetrical gestures), and refreshing my Spanish (many cast members didn’t speak much English). It was also very special to sing in the beautiful Teatro Principal in Burgos.

The cast on the stage of the Teatro Principal
The cast on the stage of the Teatro Principal

The opera’s plot is complicated, with two frame stories. In one, the god of sleep sends his minions to create dreams, and a homeless woman dreams of a nymph being turned into a tree. She asks her wise friend to help her understand her dream. The other frame story sets the main plot up as Venus’s revenge for a slight offered her by Apollo (he revealed her to her husband while she and Mars were practicing “military exercises” naked, and she is angry). She complains to her father Zeus, and he suggests she send her son Cupid to get revenge. Cupid wounds Apollo while the nymph Dafne is passing by. Dafne is sworn to Diana (and therefore chastity) and refuses Apollo’s advances. When he pursues her in spite of her refusal, she asks her father to turn her into a tree. Apollo bitterly repents the transformation he has caused, but it is too late.

In an unconnected but interwoven (and very important, in my completely unbiased opinion!) plot, Cefalo has abandoned his nymph Procri because he has fallen in love with the goddess Aurora. Aurora is married to Titone, who was formerly young and handsome. She managed to get him eternal life, but she forgot to ask for eternal youth. So he is now old and decrepit, which is why she’s running off to earth to fool around with Cefalo.

We started each morning with yoga and dance exercises that incorporated character work. Then we spent 11am to 8pm on a mixture of staging and music rehearsals. Since my character of Procri only appears in an isolated scene, I had a lot of time without formal rehearsals. The opera was double-cast, and my double and I spent our spare time coaching each other and chatting (in Spanish, naturally).

I don’t have any performance photos, but you can see a professional photographer’s snaps of the Friday performance here.

We got up to fun shenanigans in town during our time off. I am very fond of Spanish food and Spanish wine, so I was a bit of a joke with the rest of cast—they’d spot me in the nearby bar with my tapas spread and glass of Rioja and say, “Ilana, como te cuidas!” (“What good care you take of yourself!”) We also got into town from time to time, one evening for a heavenly lute concert by Paul O’Dette and of course on Friday and Saturday for the performances. I ran away from the theater on Saturday for a couple hours to visit Burgos’s famous Gothic cathedral, which is huge and very impressive. I also stopped by the Monastery of las Huelgas, a convent formerly reserved for royalty and nobility. (Anne of Austria was once the Abbess!) In addition to some great Moorish architecture and well-preserved medieval outfits, the monastery houses a collection of important early polyphony texts.

You’ve probably gathered that it was a very busy week in Burgos. The day after the final performance, I hopped on a train to San Sebastian, with the goal of eating more food, drinking more wine, and lying on the beach.

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