Quantum Theatre and Chatham Baroque Collaborate on the Revival of ‘Idaspe’

By Jessica Neu

Pittsburgh’s Quantum theater is known for its innovative and experimental productions. However, their next production, Idaspe, may prove to be their most groundbreaking and monumental undertaking thus far, as it marks the U.S. Premiere of Idaspe. In collaboration with Chatham Baroque, directed by Claire van Kampen, this adaptation of the classic Baroque Opera for modern audiences marks the show’s first full production since 1730. Running October 7-15 at the Byham Theater, London composer, writer, and director Claire van Kampen combines contemporary theater and Baroque-era opera. Together with conductor Daniel Nesta Curtis, they will unite with world-renowned singers and actors to bring to life the first edition of Idaspe in modern notation. Curtis brings a familiarity to both the Baroque period and the Pittsburgh region. He has been a faculty member of the School of Music at Carnegie Mellon University since 2012. He has conducted performances with the CMU Philharmonic, Chamber Orchestra, Baroque Ensemble, and Percussion Ensemble, as well as several fully staged opera productions. 

           This once-in-a-lifetime revival has garnered an ensemble of top-billing, award-winning performers from around the world to retell this classic piece. Mezzo-soprano Zoie Reams joins the cast as Mandane, beloved of Dario. In the 2021-2022 season, Reams made her house debut at the Metropolitan Opera as Lily in Porgy and Bess. She also appeared as the title role in Carmen and in The Anonymous Lover as a member of the Minnesota Opera Company. 

Pascale Beaudin, a Montreal native who now resides in Pittsburgh, will portray Berenice, beloved of Idaspe. The Acadian soprano performs worldwide and has been a soloist with Chatham Baroque, the Orchestre Métropolitain, the Orchestre Symphonique de Québec, the Lanaudière Festival, and the Orford Festival. 

           Mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux plays the role created by composer Riccardo Broschi for his brother, who would be known as Farinelli, the heroic Dario. An Alaskan native, Vivica has performed at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, London’s Barbican Centre, Madrid’s Teatro Real, Rome’s Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, and the Wiener Staatsoper. Recent highlights of Vivica’s career include reprising the role of Vagaus in Juditha triumphans; her Il divino Sassone; the first performances of her solo show Vivica & Viardot and Gender Stories with countertenor Lawrence Zazzo; and her débuts in the title role of Hasse’s Irene and as Trasimede in Riccardo Broschi’s Merope.

           Countertenor John Holiday creates the title role of Idaspe, friend and comrade-in-arms to Dario. Holiday has performed at such prestigious venues as Carnegie Hall, The Kennedy Center, London’s Barbican Center, and the Philharmonie de Paris. Some of Holiday’s credits include a tour with Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the world premiere of Daniel Bernard Roumain’s “We Shall Not Be Moved” with Opera Philadelphia and the Dutch National Opera. 

           Portraying the character of Arbace is Iranian-American mezzo-soprano Shannon Delijani. Previous credits include Sesto in La Clemenza di Tito (Trentino Festival), the title role in Agrippina (Mannes Baroque Ensemble), Mrs. Olsen in Street Scene (Mannes Opera), Larina in Eugene Onegin (Mannes Opera), and Paulette in Kiss Me, Kate (Pittsburgh Festival Opera). Countertenor Wei En Chan will play Ircano. A native of Singapore, he has had leading roles in the works of Bach and Handel. Previous credits include the title role in Handel’s Oreste with SIFA, Bach’s B minor mass & St. Matthew Passion with Bachfest Malaysia, Ruggiero in Handel’s Alcina with The Opera People, and Cupid in John Blow’s Venus & Adonis

According to the Idaspe sourcebook released by Quantum theater, Idaspe tells the story of two children who flee the post-war Middle East and seek refuge in Naples. The children are separated and raised in an “underworld” that favors organized crime. Both characters become leaders in opposing clans as they reach adulthood. Artaserse kidnaps two women from his rivals, intensifying an “escalating war.” The kidnapping is a metaphor for the story, as each character is “held captive” by circumstances and emotions. Might they find that all-consuming power and violence are not the only means to survive?”

This project has proven to be a labor of love for Chatham Baroque’s three Artistic Directors (Andrew Fouts, violin; Patricia Halverson, viola da gamba; Scott Pauley, theorbo and baroque guitar). Using the score, which existed only in a dusty old 366-page hand-copied manuscript from the 1730s, they, in collaboration with van Kampen, created a new musical score for Idaspe. The team worked tirelessly to condense the original score, which ran for over 3.5 hours, down to a more pragmatic length while maintaining the integrity and richness of the original story and music. The Idaspe sourcebook notes that “Chatham Baroque worked from the original manuscript’s melodies and figured bass notation to create a modern transcription. After months of collaboration with van Kampen, developed an original performance edition and contemporary book.”

Known for its experimental approach to theater and using various venues to bring shows to life, Pittsburgh’s Quantum Theater has a history of retelling original translations and injecting Baroque influence into multiple productions. Quantum and Chatham Baroque drew from previous productions for inspiration for this momentous operatic event, including their 2016 pastiche rendition of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale and several original translations (Roland Schimmelpfenning’s Arabian Nights; Jon Fosse’s Dream of Autumn). 

Ultimately, Idaspe promises to offer more than an evening at the opera. This is a monumental moment where audiences can experience not a remake of history but rather history being made. Whether you are an experienced or novice opera-goer, it is essential to recognize Idaspe for its greatness and experience what is sure to be a triumph in Quantum Theater’s 30 years of experimental theater. What a privilege for Pittsburgh audiences to have a company such as Quantum that is daring enough to bring Idaspe to life for the first time in centuries with the help of van Kampen’s contemporary treatment of Chatham Baroque’s “musical purity rendered from its long-lost Baroque source.”

Tickets are available now for Idaspe through the Byham Box Office.

Performances are October 7, 9, 11, 13, and 15, 2022, at 7:30 p.m.

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