Baroque opera, with its artifice and conventions, can strike many as an antique curiosity, important perhaps for its historical value but not exactly relevant to the 21st century.
For Joyce DiDonato, however, Baroque opera can express exactly what we need.
The Harriman-Jewell Series will present mezzo-soprano DiDonato and the Early Music ensemble Il Pomo d’Oro in “In War & Peace: Harmony Through Music” Wednesday, Dec. 7, at the Folly Theater.
The idea for the concert came to DiDonato in the wake of tragedy.
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“I was set to do a recording featuring lost Neapolitan composers, but after the attacks in Paris just over a year ago, I felt the need to program something that directly addressed my desire to promote peace,” DiDonato wrote in an e-mail. “The Baroque world is overflowing with ideas exploring revenge, devastation and horror, but also serenity, tranquility and love — and every degree in between. It felt like the right moment to ask people which elements they wish to nurture within themselves.”
“In War and Peace” will feature arias of blood-boiling rage and soul-calming peace by a wide variety of Baroque composers. Some are well-known, like Henry Purcell and George Frideric Handel; others are more obscure, like Bonaventura Cavalieri, Niccolò Jommelli and Leonardo Leo.
“Each piece is a favorite and they work in total tandem with each other,” DiDonato wrote. “I challenge the audience to face the darkness right from the start and purposefully do not shy away from showing the horror of war and turmoil. There comes a moment of surrender, however, and only in the letting go are we ready to then receive the ‘light,’ to enter the peace. If we open to this peace, then we are ready to celebrate and let the jubilation come.”
Il Pomo d’Doro, DiDonato’s back-up band, is a youthful Early Music ensemble, founded in 2012. The group is known for its fiery and flashy approach to Baroque music.
“I cannot imagine a better partner to share in this journey,” DiDonato wrote. “Not only are they superb musicians, but they are completely willing to try something new and get outside the box of a typical concert. We are enjoying every moment, and I’m sure that will be obvious to the audience, as well.”
Victoria Botero Ensemble debut
Soprano Victoria Botero is a beloved local singer whose versatility and love of Baroque music is very much like DiDonato’s. Botero will perform 17th-century rarities Sunday, Dec. 4, at the 1900 Building in a concert that will feature the debut of the Victoria Botero Ensemble.
“Joyce DiDonato is so inspiring to me,” Botero said. “You can tell how the music moves through her. She’s the one that we singers look to now. Her career is not made in doing ‘Carmen.’ It’s not made on doing super-popular music that everybody knows. She’s singing repertoire that a lot of people don’t know, and she’s making it live again.”
Botero will be doing the same with her program, “La Serenissima.” It will feature music by two 17th-century composers: Barbara Strozzi and Benedetto Ferrari.
“I had a grant to go to Milan earlier this year to study the music of Barbara Strozzi with some Early Music specialists, and this concert is a consequence of that,” Botero said.
Strozzi is a stand-out composer of Venice, and not just because she was a woman. She was also one of the most prolific composers of her era who wrote almost entirely secular works. Nearly three-quarters of her music was written for soprano, making it ideal repertoire for Botero.
Very few of Ferrari’s works survive, but those that do are treasured for their virtuosity and gorgeous melody.
“Even if a person is new to classical music or the Baroque era, people will get it,” Botero said. “You may not recognize the songs, but if you have ever loved, you will recognize the stories being told through the music. The emotions are things we still feel today and the humor is all there. It’s just so beautiful.”
Ensemble Iberica with Botero
In addition to “La Serenissima,” Botero is also joining Ensemble Iberica Saturday, Dec. 10, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church for “Kilmore Carols.” An Irish friar living in Spain composed these carols more than 250 years ago, and they have been performed every year since in the Kilmore parish of Wexford County, Ireland.
Ensemble Iberica is a flexible group, and for this concert, artistic director Beau Bledsoe is playing up the Celtic flavor by adding fiddler Betse Ellis and banjo player Clarke Wyatt. Cellist Ray-Carter will provide her own special touch.
8 p.m. Dec. 10. St Paul's Episcopal Church, 11 E 40th St. $25. EnsembleIberica.org.
‘Nutcracker and the Mouse King’
The Owen/Cox Dance Group’s totally unusual and extremely popular “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” is returning this holiday season. Performances are Saturday and Sunday at the Polsky Theatre at Johnson County Community College. The People’s Liberation Big Band of Greater Kansas City will provide its clever and quirky take on the score by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, as well as original music.
As it has in the past, Owen/Cox is partnering with the Paseo Academy to provide valuable contemporary dance experience for young dancers.
‘A Very English Christmas’
The Kansas City Chamber Orchestra will present “A Very English Christmas” Tuesday, Dec. 6, at Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral.
The very English Episcopal cathedral will be the perfect setting for atmospheric music conjuring up a peaceful, pastoral Christmas. Bruce Sorrell will conduct works like the delightful Capriol Suite by Peter Warlock, the Suite from “Abdelazer” by Henry Purcell and the Fantasia on Greensleeves by Ralph Vaughan Williams. Baritone Daniel Belcher will be the soloist for Gerald Finzi’s “In Terra Pax.”
‘Sounds of the Season’
The Kansas City Civic Orchestra presents “Sounds of the Season” Friday and Saturday at Atonement Lutheran Church. Guest conductor Michael Mapp will lead the orchestra in a rousing program of holiday favorites made famous by legendary crooners Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. And the Festival of Lights will be celebrated with a selection of Hanukkah songs.
7:30 p.m. Dec. 9 and 10. Atonement Lutheran Church, 9948 Metcalf Ave., Overland Park. Free. For more information, go to KCCivic.org.
Heritage Philharmonic and handbells
There’s something about the sound of handbells that immediately induces the Christmas spirit. The handbell choir of First United Methodist Church and Delta Woods Middle School’s Honor Choir will join the Heritage Philharmonic for a concert of magical Christmas music Saturday at Blue Springs High School’s Performing Arts Center.
7:30 p.m. Dec. 10. Blue Springs High School Performing Arts Center, 2000 NW Ashton Drive, Blue Springs. Free. For more information, go to HeritagePhilharmonic.org.