NYC, CU artists collaborate for “quarrelsome” opera production

An upcoming performance of 18th century opera will showcase the talents of dancers, musicians and artists from New York City, Cornell and across the state, as well as mark the retirement of Rebecca Harris-Warrick of the music department.  

“The Pleasures of the Quarrel: Three Parisian Operatic Hits from the Contested Season of 1753” is scheduled for 3 p.m. March 27 in Bailey Hall and a number of related events will take place across campus in advance, all of them free and open to the public. The event has been in the works for more than two years, postponed several times because of COVID-19.

It is being produced by Harris-Warrick and will include members of the New York Baroque Dance Company, directed by Catherine Turocy; dance students from Cornell’s Department of Performing and Media Arts (PMA); singers Lucy Fitz Gibbon, Marie Marquis, Dominik Belavy and Tyler Duncan; musicians from the Cornell Chamber Orchestra and visuals designed for the production by Adam Shulman ’23 and Jason Simms, assistant professor in PMA.

The opera centers on a pivotal moment in French operatic history known as the “War of the Buffoons,” Harris-Warrick said, an aesthetic battle between people in favor of maintaining the traditions of classic French opera and others who favored the more progressive, and comic, ideas coming from Italian operas of the day.

The production Harris-Warrick created is a “mash-up” of works performed in Paris in 1753, including an excerpt from a traditional French opera, another from a humorous Italian opera and a third from an upstart opera company that tried to blend the two.

“I wanted to stage the issues in this quarrel in a way that would showcase the unfamiliar but beautiful music and that would also be accessible and funny,” said Harris-Warrick, adding that even opera newbies will enjoy this production. “I really like bringing performance and scholarship together. Every concert I’ve produced at Cornell has had a research component to it.” Harris-Warrick’s research interests focus on the field of French baroque music, but she has also studied later periods of operatic history and renaissance and baroque dance.

four dancers
Arin Sheehan New York Baroque Dance Company dancer Julia Bengtsson, right, rehearses with Cornell students Naomi Wang, Kaitlyn Chang and Madeline Silva.

Many of the works of this time period aren’t performed today, so Harris-Warrick had to produce modern editions of two of the three scores. She also brought a baroque violinist from New York City to teach members of the Cornell Chamber Orchestra about period styles of playing. And members of New York Baroque Dance Company visited campus in December and February to work with the Cornell dancers who will be a part of the performance.

Shulman, who is studying fine arts, performing and media arts and music in the Colleges of Arts & Sciences and Architecture, Art & Planning, has created more than 50 visuals that will be projected behind the singers and dancers.

Many of those shots were taken while Shulman studied in Rome during the fall 2021 semester.

“I wanted to create a tone that’s consistent with each piece, sometimes from the time period and sometimes in contemporary time,” said Shulman, who created a visual performance last year at the Schwartz Center. “My goal is to create a consistent language so that it doesn’t seem like things come out of left field and surprise the audience.”

man in front of building
Provided Adam Shulman '23 in front of his visual installation at the Schwartz Center

Bailey Hall presents some unique challenges for Shulman, as his projections have to appear on multiple panels that are at different heights and at different locations on stage. That’s where his math skills come in — “math is extremely important in every aspect of art,” he said.

As the performance date nears, members of the dance company will arrive the weekend of March 19 and several will spend the week living in West Campus housing, where they’ll present sessions for students on opera, music, dance and living as a freelance artist in New York City.

An exhibit related to the opera is already up in the Cox Library of Music and Dance in Lincoln Hall and a pop-up exhibit of items related to the show and its themes will be open to the public in the Carl A. Kroch Library from noon to 4 p.m. on March 19. The music department’s regular “Midday Music” event at 12:30 p.m. March 24 will offer a preview of the opera; and Harris-Warrick will also offer a pre-concert talk at 2 p.m. March 27 in Bailey Hall.  Off campus, countertenor Reginald Mobley will offer a concert of baroque opera arias at the First Unitarian Society in downtown Ithaca at 7:30 p.m. on March 26. Details about all of these events are on the event website.

The March 27 opera is free and open to the public, but compliance with the university's COVID-19 requirements will be required for all audience members. Check for the latest information on Cornell’s COVID-19 website.

Sponsors of the events include the departments of music and performing and media arts, the Cornell Council for the Arts, Society for the Humanities, Cornell University Library, French Studies Program, Institute of European Studies, Department of Romance Studies and Global Early Modern Studies.

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