In June 2011, we ran a piece about barihunk Jesse Blumberg performing in the lost baroque masterpiece Niobe: Regina di Tebe by Agostino Steffani. We noticed that the post was passed around by many baroque opera enthusiasts who were thrilled to learn about this forgotten opera, which went unperformed for 320 years after its premiere in 1688. The Boston Early Music Festival waited only three years to perform it again in 2011.
Thanks to Classical New England opera fan worldwide can enjoy the broadcast of this “screwball tragedy” online. We've posted all three acts, but you can also access it at WGBH radio.
In addition to Jesse Blumberg, who plays the evil Poliferno, the stellar cast includes French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky as Anfione, the King of Thebes, Anfione wants nothing more than to hang up his scepter and immerse himself in metaphysical contemplation of the harmony of the spheres. But Anfione’s celestial ambitions are dashed by a litany of earthly troubles: a foreign invasion, a kidnapping, adultery by enchantment, a dancing bear and some very angry gods.
In Steffani's opera, the King of Thebes is at turns an enlightened demi-god, an enraged, jealous husband and a bellicose warrior-king…and that's just one of many complex characters in this spectacular opera, bringing to life Ovid's timeless tale of love, pride and divided loyalties. We also get Queen-with-attitude, Niobe herself (Amanda Forsythe); the lovesick courtier Clearte (Kevin Skelton), who pines for Niobe, the enemy prince of Thessaly (Matthew White), who also has designs on the haughty Queen; Jose Lemos is the wisecracking nurse Nerea, Colin Balzer and Yulia Van Doren as the young lovers Tibernio and Manto, and Charles Robert Stephens as Manto’s father, the blind soothsayer Tiresia. Stephen Stubbs and Paul O’Dette co-direct the Boston Early Music Festival Orchestra in a production recorded by WGBH engineers at the Cutler Majestic Theatre in Boston.