John Blow's Venus & Adonis (Second Version)

St. Patrick's Seminary Menlo Park 10.08.10 8PM
St. Mark's Episcopal Church, Berkeley 10.09.10 8PM
St. Mark's Lutheran Church, San Francisco 10.10.10 4PM

Catherine Webster, soprano
Jennifer Paulino, soprano
José Lemos, countertenor
Clifton Massey, countertenor
Paul Elliott, tenor
Peter Becker, bass
Hugh Davies, bass
Louise Carslake, recorder
Annette Bauer, recorder
Carla Moore, violin
David Wilson, violin
Daria D’Andrea, viola
Elisabeth Reed, violoncello
John Dornenburg, violone
Katherine Heater, organ & harpsichord
with members of
The San Francisco Girls Chorus

On the weekend of October 8-10, 2010 Magnificat opened their 19th season with the modern premiere of John Blow’s revised version of his opera Venus & Adonis. The performances were very well received. Joshua Kosman of the San Francisco Chronicle noted:

Sunday’s performance, ably led by Artistic Director Warren Stewart, made a strong case for this little-known work. The eight-member instrumental ensemble offered solid, rhythmically alert accompaniment, and the cast sang splendidly throughout. Soprano Catherine Webster and bass Peter Becker, in the title roles, combined clarity and eloquence in equal measure, while countertenor José Lemos’ vocal flights as Cupid lent the character an air of extravagant fancy. The chorus of shepherds and huntsmen was ably sung by Jennifer Paulino, Clifton Massey, Paul Elliott and Hugh Davies, and eight members of the San Francisco Girls Chorus brought vivacious charm to the scene of Cupid’s lesson. Full Review

Pessisimo of Exotic and Irrational Entertainment wrote:

Blow’s flowing melodies were performed beautifully by Magnificat (with members of the San Francisco Girls Chorus as the Graces [sic]). Special mention should be made of soprano Catherine Webster’s Venus, countertenor José Lemos’ Cupid (his Lesson was especially amusing) and bass Peter Becker’s Adonis, all of whom were excellently sung and characterized. Magnificat made a compelling case for the work; given its obviously high quality and modest scale, I’m amazed that it isn’t programmed more frequently. I’ve been interested in Baroque opera, and this work in particular, for more than a decade and a half, but this was my first opportunity to see it performed. Thanks are due to Stewart and Magnificat for bringing this unjustly neglected work to life. Full Review

A re-telling of the classical myth from a distinctly feminist perspective, Venus & Adonis is the earliest surviving English opera. Combining elements of the English masque and the French tragedie lyrique, it was performed “for the entertainment of the King” in 1683 and later revised for a second production. These performances of the second version were produced  in collaboration with the Purcell SocietyStainer & Bell, and the National Centre for Early Music, York (UK). A gallery of photos from the rehearsals and performances can be viewed at Magnificat’s Flickr page.