Why this programme?

So, if you know anything about En Travesti, it’s that we’re a music company that likes lifting the lid on what society usually thinks about gender, and traditional gender roles, and having a good old poke around underneath. Men with high voices, women playing men, female composers forging their way in a misogynistic world, homoerotic duets, ambiguously gendered/sexed people seducing the whole damn audience – all of it sounds fabulous to us. And our previous concerts have been easily placed within that tradition – romantic duets from Gluck, Handel and Monteverdi that would have been sung by (pick whichever option suits you best) – two female singers (one gendered as a travesti leading man), one female singer (as the leading lady) and one castrato singer (as the leading man), one female singer (en travesti as the leading man) and one castrato (as a beautiful lady) or, (unlikely, but a possibility) two castrati singers. Maybe even a natural male soprano/alto – it could happen. Combine that with concerts highlighting the talents of Baroque female composers such as Barbara Strozzi and Elizabeth Jacquet de la Guerre, and I think we can say we’ve done our mission statement proud.

At first glance, our upcoming Schütz/Monteverdi concert might seem a little less…obviously subversive. Certainly, the Monteverdi chamber duets are – two voices of the same type, singing of love. Are they outpourings of homosexual desire? Heterosexual desire through transgressive bodies? Two voices giving a plurality to a single character? Or supposed heterosexual desire with a little twist in the tail? Honestly, they could be read in so many ways – and we would rather give the audience a chance to find their own meaning in such lovely music. But Lamento d’Arianna and The Resurrection Story, whilst not so obviously radical, hopefully still give us much to think on.

Arianna’s Lament, to start with. Leaving aside the pro-Clément/anti-Clément argument I still believe that opera is fairly special in the way it gives women equal, if not greater, amounts of stage time when compared to men. And gives women a voice to express their deepest desires, hatred, woes, loves – a voice that commands attention, if not outright worship. For a woman to speak her mind is, to me, a feminist act – even if we may disagree with what she is saying, or what happens to her character before or afterwards. So, Arianna. Or Ariadne. The daughter of King Minos, and half-sister to the Minotaur. Who, for the love of Theseus, helped him to kill the monster, left her home and family and was then was abandoned, sleeping, on the island of Naxos. A happier ending in the myth – she marries Dionysus (and who of us, after a bad break-up, would say no to the god of wine?) – but the fragment left to us of Monteverdi’s opera shows only her anguish, finding herself alone and heartbroken. In her lament she shows both the most vulnerable parts of herself and also the most resilient, the most furious. It’s a stunning exploration of the pain caused by the betrayal of love. And, in our programme, an extra layer of subversion is added – because I’m playing her. It’s the first time I’ve ever played a female character, and it certainly gave me an awful lot to think about (more on that later). How the audience will read this will be – interesting, I think. And I’m very fond of interesting.

And then the Schütz – and an aspect of the music that may have been unremarkable at the time, but is most unusual now. Some of the characters in this telling of the Resurrection of Christ are sung by a single vocalist – and some of them, Jesus included, are played by multiple voices. I’ve argued in my academic work that ensemble musical works (particularly opera) could be loosely termed ‘transgender’ in a general kind of way – because of the multiplicity of genders/viewpoints/personalities that go into their creation: composer/librettist/every member of the ensemble/audience. We subsume ourselves in the making of a patchwork piece of art that seems seamless. I’ve yet to see a better example of this than to have one character portrayed by more than one voice. And the voices of Jesus? One tenor, and one alto. Voices that push into the androgynous territory of sound – combining in an unearthly, ethereal, yet passionate portrait.

Well, at any rate – I’m terrible excited. And I hope you will be too.

CN x

Schütz/Monteverdi – September 29th 2011

En Travesti Ensemble – Schütz/Monteverdi
Resurrection Story/Laments and Madrigals
29th September – 19:30
The Chapel, King’s College London, The Strand, WC2R 2LS
 
 
Early music ensemble En Travesti presents a mixed programme of sacred and secular music from two masters of the Baroque period. Monteverdi’s Lamento d’Arianna, performed by chorus and mezzo-soprano CN Lester, is complemented by Philip Lawton’s new arrangement of the composer’s chamber duets. En Travesti is delighted to be joined by Irish tenor Mark Duff, who will sing the Evangelist in Schütz’s Resurrection Story – an early and exquisite example of German sacred oratorio form that was to directly inform the style of the great Bach Passions.
En Travesti Ensemble hold a unique position as a classical music group devoted to exploring gender subversion and LGBT themes in Western art music history. Focusing on castrati and travesti roles, female composers and operatic gender-bending, En Travesti have appeared on Classic FM and Pink News, and at such venues as Handel House, The British Library and Channel 4.
“Stellar performances.” – The F Word

February 3rd 2011 – En Travesti Ensemble at Handel House

Handel House

 

My goodness, it’s been a while. But for good reason – the Ensemble has been plotting, planning and rehearsing, so that we can (proudly) present…our 2011 season. Starting with:

Forgotten Voices

Handel House Museum

Thursday, February 3rd, 6:30pm

 

If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of attending a concert at Handel House, I do urge you to give it a try (and not only for self-serving reasons). It’s an intimate venue (seating no more than thirty) and the warmth of the acoustic (as well as the significance of the site) adds something very special to the early music performed there. Plus – Jimi Hendrix!

Handel House

25 Brook Street

London

SW1K 4HB

As to the concert itself? Our mission as a group is to explore gender identity and ambiguity in vocal music. Part of that is the wonderful world of castrati singers, the cross-dressing tradition on stage and all the lovely blurring of boundaries between hetero and homosexual romance that are part and parcel of the early opera experience.

But another part of our mission? To bring to attention the works of forgotten female composers – musicians who by their very existence defied the constraints of traditional gender roles. We all remember being told as teenagers that there were no female composers worth mentioning. When I was attending open days for my BMus course in 2002  a lecturer in composition at one of the London universities told a room full of potential students that women couldn’t hope to compose as well as men because evolution had made it impossible for their brains to process music in the same way as the great leading lights of the Western classical tradition. In 2002. Think back to the 17th Century.

This could become all too academic all too easily. Except for one point: the music we’re highlighting in our Forgotten Voices series is stunning. Focusing on the works of Barbara Strozzi and Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre we’ve gathered together a collection of love duets, religious cantatas, arias and harpsichord solos. Let me make it clear – performing and listening to this music is not some kind of worthy act or obligation. It is sheer, unadulterated pleasure. Your ears, and your brain, will thank you.

So we do hope to see as many of you there as possible. And, if you wanted to stay for a drink and a geeky discussion afterwards, I will be making brownies.

All the best

CN

 

 

What have we been up to?

Well, first, some congratulations and thanks. Because Juditha was so very, very wonderful, and we couldn’t have done it without a hell of a lot of hard graft, talent, blood, sweat and tears, generously donated by a whole bunch of wonderful people. The staff of All Saints Church Fulham (check it out, they filmed The Omen there – also, they’re very lovely), our incredible chorus and orchestra, stupendous soloists – Devonshire Partners for their financial aid, the glorious (and sympathetic) audience – friends, partners, family – thank you so, so much. Raise a glass, if you would, to doing it all over again.

On a Juditha related note: watch out for a highlights track – just edited, and coming to the website shortly.

Future events? We’re playing at Handel House Museum on February 3rd – a line-up of female Baroque composers – tickets are limited, so book well in advance. We’re going to be teaming up with an incredible performance artist, Spike McGarrity, to create a phantasmagorical cabaret show, and we’re expanding our repertoire of sacred music. Watch this space for news of a concert production of Francesca Caccini’s Ruggiero, scheduled for the end of 2011. Philip and I  are having a glorious time researching new music – things are taking a decidedly French turn – thank you, Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre.

And finally (and very much the most important piece of news) – HUGE congratulations to our Managing Director and lead soprano Rebecca – or, should we say, Mrs. Laurent?  A stunning wedding, and a wonderful couple – and, of course, a Handel aria for the ceremony. Perfection.

CN

It’s nearly time for “Juditha Triumphans”

It’s nearly midnight, the day before “Juditha Triuphans” and I’ve just taken the fourth batch of brownies out of the oven. Cupcakes are waiting for vanilla bean frosting. Don’t ever say we don’t look after our audience members.

Harpsichord and chamber organ have been lovingly (and ever-so-carefully) transported to the venue. Rehearsals have been rehearsed. The programme programmed. Embellishments perfected. Tempers lost – quarrels mended – a hell of a lot of noise made.

For the past few months I’ve been striding around my living room, figuring out how best to portray a character who thinks that assorted assaults and war crimes are a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. Between research. And planning. And marketing. And a bit more research. And not just me – every member of this company. So (the reveal)…

…We would love for you to join us tomorrow to hear Vivaldi’s only surviving oratorio – a work that hasn’t been performed in this country since the 1970s. In fact, this performance is a world premiere of Philip Lawton’s new edition, so it gets to be extra special. Stay for a glass of something and a, ‘oh we know you shouldn’t but go on then’, dessert. We’ve put our hearts into this project – why not give us two hours of your time?

CN

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