Intermezzo in Berkeley 

The organic baroque opera of teatro bacchino

"In a world that's about

fast food, we aspire to be the Chez Panisse of opera companies. It's a simple meal, but it's exquisite, because it's real and it's honest--and it's also more affordable," proclaims David Morris, codirector of Teatro Bacchino.So what if the company performed its first baroque opera in costumes made from dollar-a-meter fabric and cardboard corsets? "It worked well, and we still liked each other at the end of two productions," avers cellist Jennifer Griesbach, Teatro Bacchino's other codirector. She and harpsichordist Morris love what they do, and they've come a long way since their first 1995 production of John Blow's 1683 Venus and Adonis. They've now secured a grant for costumes, sponsorship by the prestigious San Francisco Early Music Society, and a season consisting of three fully staged, English-language baroque opera productions.

This weekend, Teatro Bacchino's final production of the season, Giuseppe Maria Orlandini's 1715 Serpilla and Bacocco, will be seen in three Bay Area locations. Starring New York soprano Melissa Fogarty as Serpilla and baritone David Newman as Bacocco, the short work, one of the most popular comic intermezzos of the 18th century, originally fit between longer acts of baroque opera seria.

"Our performances have been getting better and better," says Griesbach. "The first few years were definitely a real period of trial and error for me as a stage director. Now I look back and think how lucky I've been to have, in essence, a workshop that I could keep coming back to three times a year and exploring this medium."

BAROQUE-IT-YOURSELF
Teatro Bacchino is one of only three baroque opera companies in the world--all of which are located in North America. Last summer, the company offered the only staged operatic production at a major US baroque music festival.

Both directors sing the praises of their "fabulous, really excellent singers," whom Morris describes as "young enough to not be calcified." They also love the process of staging the operas. "It's a monumental task," he explains. "It has been extraordinarily difficult to do self-production, but we push because it makes us play all of our cards."

The company has certainly had to work hard to make Serpilla and Bacocco a reality. Since the only existing score is a facsimile of the original, Griesbach had to prepare both the performing edition and the idiomatic English language translation. She also reduced the orchestra to three instruments, adding an overture plus other pieces to expand the short intermezzo to an hour in length.

ADJUSTMENT NECESSARY
Subtitled "The Gambling Husband and the Hypocritical Wife," Serpilla and Bacocco describes the period right after the marriage in which newlyweds really start to get to know each other.

The first act concerns the wife's discovery of her husband's gambling addiction, and features a cursing "Ode to Dice and Poker." In Act Two, the wife sues for divorce, and is willing to sleep with the judge to help her case. The judge, however, turns out to be the husband in disguise. What happens in the third act shall herein remain a mystery, but the quick-moving story is very much about disillusion and the compromises one makes when living with another person. The music is light and beautiful, offering the fresh Italian sound that Handel, among others, was trying to copy.

"Baroque opera is about beautiful music and real emotions," says Griesbach. "It's not a fossil. When you start putting it on in this very detailed and attentive way, it becomes the most alive art form I've ever worked in."

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