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Washington Early Music Festival

One of Washington's musical strengths is a burgeoning early-music scene. There are a striking number of groups in the city dedicated to music of the Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Baroque, some bearing euphonious names like Suspicious Cheese Lords (an all-male vocal group), Harmonious Blacksmith (the resident ensemble of Baltimore's An Die Musik), or Opera Lafayette, surely one of the few American companies devoted exclusively to Baroque opera. This last ensemble's Sancho Pança, performed on May 24, kicked off the fifth Washington Early Music Festival, a now-biannual celebration of this scene with groups both local and national/international (like the New-York based Repast Baroque Ensemble). This year's festival focuses on the music of France.
(read more after the jump)

The festival is modest, run by volunteers, and operates on a shoestring budget. It has also been expanded, this year, to extend over an entire month; concerts continue through June 26th. Particularly interesting, in an ever-more participatory cultural climate, is the number of events catering to those who not only want to hear early music, but to make it. There are a range of workshops designed to immerse participants in different aspects of period performance: vocal workshops on early French choral singing and Hildegard von Bingen (a notably un-French element in the French-oriented program); an instrumental workshop on Baroque style and one on playing music from medieval France.

The festival is canny in performing at a time when Washington's music scene has started to scale back for summer. Yet for all its range, it doesn't even include all of DC's early-music groups: the Folger Consort's special presentation on Shakespeare's "Tempest" on June 10 and 11, with readings from the play by the likes of Sir Derek Jacobi and singing by countertenor David Daniels, isn't even formally a part of the WEMF calendar.

A complete schedule of the events that are included is available at

By Anne Midgette  |  June 2, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Washington , festivals  
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I'm increasingly drawn to the earlier end of the opera canon (becoming enamoured with Rameau of late) but it seems without the visuals and stage business, early music tends to bore me silly.

Any hints on where a skeptic should start?

Posted by: ianw2 | June 2, 2010 3:00 PM | Report abuse

I doubt that you would be bored silly by Stefano Landi’s “Il Sant'Alessio” (either on CD or on the wonderfully powerful all-male singer DVD from the Théâtre de Caen); all of Monteverdi’s operas, starting with “Orfeo”, and progressing to “The Coronation of Poppea” and then the very wise “The Return of Ulysses to His Homeland”; Gluck, starting with ”Orfeo ed Euridice“ and ”Iphigénie en Tauride“ (which you can hear and see “live” at the Washington National Opera next season), and then his exceptionally powerful “Alceste”; and Handel’s “Semele”, which is an absolute masterpiece of early English language opera.

Beyond these widely known masterpieces, I’d also recommend Opera Lafayette’s fine recording, on Naxos, of Antonio Sacchini’s “Œdipe à Colone", which the ensemble premiered a few years back at the University of Maryland. You may also be interested in the imaginative early Peruvian opera “La púrpura de la rosa” (The Blood of the Rose) by Torrejón y Velasco from 1701, which is based on Ovid.

Posted by: snaketime1 | June 3, 2010 12:16 PM | Report abuse

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