Chicago’s newest opera company looks far back to opera’s earliest days with a detective’s eye for historial detail.
By Doyle Armbrust|
Craig Trompeter is to baroque cello and gamba as Hot Doug’s Doug Sohn is to encased meats. The early-music specialist is about to significantly elevate the city’s operatic street cred with the imminent launch of the Haymarket Opera Company, named after the 1886 riot in Chicago’s Haymarket Square, as well as Handel’s primary opera venue in London. Chicago already boasts one of the nation’s finest purveyors of Puccini, Wagner, etc., the Lyric Opera, as well as the more progressive-leaning Chicago Opera Theater. But we have lacked a champion of 17th- and 18th-century period-instrument opera. Until now. On September 9 and 10, Mayne Stage will host its first fully staged opera, Handel’s Aci, Galatea e Polifemo. “With a few exceptions, the U.S. does not offer baroque and classical operas staged in a historically informed way,” Trompeter says. He explained his dream of founding an opera company on a bacon date with friend and singer Angela Young Smucker, who stars in Aci. “She agreed to hear me out as long as copious amounts of bacon were served with coffee and sweet rolls. There are companies that use period instruments for baroque opera, but few do classical works with period instruments.” One of the primary differences that sets classical opera apart is a conservative use of vibrato by vocalists and instrumentalists. The string players of the orchestra perform primarily on instruments made during the baroque and classical eras, on strings made of animal gut, with convex bows as opposed to modern, concave bows. The music of this era has a timbral warmth and luster of articulation when performed on period instruments. Haymarket follows historical detail down to the costumes and dance numbers. But wigs aside, this is no prim endeavor. In Trompeter’s mind, Haymarket is more Sherlock Holmes than Little Lord Fauntleroy: “Early musicians tend to be detectives, finding pieces the public is less familiar with. It’s only been in the last 40 years that people have known any of Handel’s operas.” Trompeter and concertmaster Jeri-Lou Zike hope to tap into the Mayne Stage’s (relatively) younger demographic. Though perhaps a more reasonable expectation is a hungry, local early-music fanbase established by the pair’s other appearances with local ensembles Baroque Band, the Callipygian Players and the Newberry Consort. “We would like Mayne Stage to be our home for good,” Zike tells us.Two operas are planned for each of the 2012 and 2013 seasons. The company is already furiously stitching away at costumes and putting the finishing touches on a set for the upcoming Handel opera specifically tailored to Mayne Stage’s diminutive size. Trompeter says the venue fits the three-singer cast and chamber orchestra, and is not dissimilar to early opera productions: “In the 17th century, stage sets tended to be simple by our modern standards, with back drops and side flats,” the Lincoln Park resident says. As for starting an arts org in the midst of a national financial crisis, the ensemble has been fortunate to receive donations from family and friends, but most poignantly, from fellow musicians who share the desire for this brand of opera in Chicago. Even with an unsteady financial climate, one thing is certain: With the talent Trompeter and Zike surround themselves with, the Haymarket Opera Company will be an intriguing addition to the scene. Aci, Galatea e Polifemo premieres September 9 and 10 at Mayne Stage. Visit haymarketopera.org for info.