Barber opera goes to Boston

Following more than 50 years of research into composer Agostino Steffani, Professor Colin Timms from our Department of Music will be at the Boston Early Music Festival this month for the first North American staging of the opera Orlando.

  • Having been neglected for more than three hundred years since its premiere in Hanover in 1691, composer Agostino Steffani’s opera Orlando generoso received its first modern staging in 2012 at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts.
  • Professor Colin Timms, a leading authority on Steffani, produced the performing edition for the Barber production and conducted the three performances.
  • Timms has been invited to this year’s Boston Early Music Festival (9 - 16 June) for the first North American staging of Orlando, at which he will give a series of talks about the opera and Steffani’s fascinating life and work. 

Professor Colin Timms has been researching Steffani (1654–1728) for more than 50 years, and has been involved in the staging and recording of numerous works by the composer.

Colin Timms

Based on Ludovico Ariosto’s 16th-century epic, Orlando is a musical masterpiece that examines deeply human themes of desire, love, jealousy, and madness. The production of Orlando at the Boston Early Music Festival is being directed by Gilbert Blin, and the performances directed by Stephen Stubbs and Paul O’Dette. Alongside providing the edition for the music, Professor Timms has acted as musical consultant, has written an extended programme note, and will give four pre-performance talks at the festival.

Timms said: “This production marks the latest stage in the rise of Steffani from obscurity to prominence. Whenever a Steffani opera has been performed, it has been enthusiastically received and the composer has won new admirers 

“This will certainly happen in Boston next month, and it is good to know that the growing stature of this wonderful composer is underpinned by research undertaken at the University of Birmingham.”

Part of a long-term endeavour to uncover and rediscover Steffani’s work, Orlando follows on from the Boston festival’s 2011 presentation of Steffani’s Niobe, regina di Tebe (1688). Subsequently, a studio recording of this performance, with a cast that includes Philippe Jaroussky, Amanda Forsythe, Karina Gauvin and Christian Immler, was released by Erato in 2015.

Similarly, 2012–13 saw the release of The Steffani Project by Decca, a set of three CDs of his music featuring the sensational Cecilia Bartoli. The first CD, entitled Mission, consists of arias and duets from his operas (which were also filmed for DVD, shot in the palace of Versailles); the second, Stabat Mater, focuses on sacred works, including six unpublished pieces specially edited by Timms; while the third, Danze e Ouvertures, brings together the instrumental music from Steffani’s operas, performed by I Barocchisti and directed by Diego Fasolis.

In 2016, Belgian conductor René Jacobs directed a production of Steffani’s opera Amor vien dal Destino (1709) by the Staatsoper Berlin. He selected this particular work after discussion with Timms, who produced the performing edition and introduced the work in the programme. The cast included Katarina Bradić, Robin Johannsen, Jeremy Ovenden and Rupert Enticknap, and the orchestra was the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin. 

Immensely popular during his lifetime, thanks to these performances and recordings Steffani is deservedly finding new audiences and admirers today.