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Italian baroque for a New Orleans summer night

Francis Scully )Photo: Hanna Rasanen)

Francis Scully (Photo: Hanna Rasanen)

For years now pundits and observers of the “high” arts in America have predicted the demise of classical music, opera and dance, whose audiences, they say, consist mainly of those with white hair and or no hair.

And yet, with every generation, inspired talented ones have appeared whose glorious flashes of brilliance and passion have managed to keep these precious artistic traditions alive across the United States.

New Orleans, with its centuries-old classical traditions, suffers from the same daunting economic realities defining so many of this country’s cultural centers. Still, the Crescent City has been able to defy the direst of doom-and-gloom predictions -- without doubt because of an influx of extraordinary young artists joining the core of native-born talent, and an unusual venue that is supporting them all.

With an open door and an open heart the Marigny Opera House and its energetic director, Dave Hurlburt, have welcomed musicians, singers and dancers to present works rarely heard or seen here and, in a number of cases, works rarely experienced anywhere in the United States.

For 33-year-old Francis Scully, this means being able to create and conduct a fully professional new musical ensemble – the New Resonance Orchestra – and present some of the hardly-ever-performed jewels of the Italian baroque period by outstanding New Orleans-based musicians and classical vocalists. Scully, who grew up in the Crescent City, has an undergraduate degree in violin performance from Catholic University and a master’s in conducting from the Peabody Conservatory of Johns Hopkins University. After a stint through Europe watching, listening and learning from the best of symphony orchestras, he has come back to New Orleans and is on the music faculty at Holy Cross College.

Following the critical and popular success of the December 2013 production of Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610, the New Resonance Orchestra in partnership with the Marigny Opera House will present an ambitious new program of Italian Baroque music this Friday and Saturday nights. Vocal Director and Italian-trained mezzo-soprano Mattea Musso has joined forces with Scully to direct singers and a chamber ensemble in performances of Pergolesi’s extraordinary Stabat Mater, as well as excerpts from the Lamentations by Alessandro Scarlatti.

Stabat Mater (1736), the last work composed by Neapolitan composer Giovanni Pergolesi, is one of the most celebrated sacred works of the baroque era. Philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau believed the opening movement to be "the most perfect and touching duet to come from the pen of any composer."

Lamentations (1707) (“The Lamentations of Jeremiah”) is a masterful cycle set to Biblical texts by another great Neapolitan composer, Alessandro Scarlatti. The piece existed only in manuscript form until 1995, and has been rarely performed or recorded. Excerpts from the cycle will be sung by Musso and soprano Kathleen Westfall, director of The 9th Ward Opera Company, accompanied by the New Resonance Orchestra ensemble.

 Stabat Mater (1736)

  • Performances: Friday June 13 and Saturday June 14, 8 p.m.
  • Venue: Marigny Opera House, 725 St. Ferdinand Street,  New Orleans
  • Tickets: $20/ $10 Students & Seniors, available at box office or online at  www.marignyoperahouse.org or here.

Sharon Litwin is president of NolaVie. Email her at [email protected]