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L’Amfiparnaso: Found in Translation, part 1

December 29, 2010

by Theodore Deacon, producer of EMG’s upcoming baroque opera production: A Day on the Town, A Night in Hell. Click here for more information about performances and to buy tickets.

Commedia dell'arte actors on stage

When it comes to early opera productions I am anything but a purist. Of course I have done my share of historically informed reproductions with all the periwigs, panniers and pantaloons one would expect. These sorts of productions should be the core of our work as historians and musicologists. But I am also a creature of progressive theatre and unashamedly proud of the occasional “diversions” I have taken with some EMG shows– remember the motorcycle in Monteverdi’s Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda (2002) or the Fascist thugs and phone sex in L’incoronazione di Poppea (2007)?

Yet there is one area of early music where “purity” is sacrosanct with me: the score itself. I expect any production I am working on to use the best edition with the finest up-to-date scholarship. The band needs to play on period instruments and the singers must be well-coached in stylistic niceties. Oh, and yes, original language please! A Lully opera in anything other than elegant Quinalt-ian French would sound simply ludicrous, don’t you agree?

So you can understand the academic mental gymnastics I went through when Roger Downey and Arne Zaslove, the two men responsible for conceiving a viable production of our madrigal comedy production, strongly came down on the side of doing L’Amfiparnaso in English translation! I thought they were crazy. Madrigals are tough enough to sing and understand in their mother tongues, especially in the dizzying dialects, bawdy puns and innuendoes that are its elements of style. But Downey and Zaslove’s arguments were sound: comedy is best appreciated when done in the language of the attending audience and is even more essential in the commedia dell’arte tradition of pitching its humor directly into your lap. So, tenuously, I agreed.

Little did I know then that  several months later circumstances would land the execution of the translation in MY lap!  At first, I blenched. What a task! Not only would I need to match the Italian rhythms to the unique patter of singable English, but also find equivalents to the intricate (and frequently naughty) word play that runs through the disparate dialects. Then there was the task of tying together the VERY loosely arranged vignettes that made up the – for want of a better word – “plot.”

Well, I’ve often rushed in madly where the better angels of my practical nature feared to tread. So I dove right in. What I didn’t expect was how delightful I found the challenges facing me and how fulfilling, intellectually and theatrically, the results would turn out to be. Read my further blogs to see how I found my way through this thorny, madcap maze of crazy comedy and good dirty fun.


5 Comments leave one →
  1. April 7, 2011 3:33 PM

    I am looking forward to the preview at Town Hall on April 10. Any excuse to hear Stephen Stubbs is welcome, and commedia dell’arte — well, it just doesn’t get any better than that, mixed with baroque opera. This will be a very exciting performance!

    • April 9, 2011 8:27 AM

      Having learned that the preview on April 10 is more of a discussion and presentation of the work than a “performance preview,” I’ll just say that the production at the Moore remains an event not to be missed. I was fortunate enough to see and hear Stephen Stubbs’ production of “Esther” in the recent Handel festival, and am now a committed fan. “A Day on the Town, a Night in Hell” will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience of exquisite music and hilarious, authentic Commedia dell’Arte theater. I can’t wait.


  1. Baroque Opera: A Day on the Town: A Night in Hell
  2. L’Amfiparnaso: Found in Translation, part 2 «
  3. Baroque Opera Previews: A Day on the Town, A Night in Hell «

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