Alan Curtis, conductor and harpsichordist — Having for years divided his time between Berkeley, where he taught at the celebrated University of California and Europe, where he plays and conducts concerts and operas, Curtis now devotes full time to performing, principally dramatic music from Monteverdi to Mozart. An article on him in 'Orpheus' (Berlin) was titled 'The avant-gardist of early music'. In fact, already as a young student in the '50s, he was the first modern harpsichordist to confront the problems of Louis Couperin's unmeasured preludes for harpsichord. Shortly thereafter, he became a pioneer in the return to original instruments and Baroque performance practises in early operas. In collaboration with Shirley Wynne, he was the first to revive a Rameau opera with period instruments and authentic choreography. His radically new 'reconstruction' of Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea, first heard in Berkeley in the '60s, marked the first time in three centuries that a late dramatic work of Monteverdi was performed as intended by the composer, i.e. without the modern orchestration still often mistakenly thought to be 'necessary'. He commissioned both the first authentic chitarrone (Warnock) and the first chromatic (split-key) harpsichord (Dowd) to be built in modern times, and taught his singers to follow the tuning systems of the period (with pure major thirds). Poppea was then mounted with great success in Amsterdam, Brussels, Spoleto, Innsbruck and Venice (where it was nationally televised from La Fenice, and recorded by Fonit Cetra). A landmark performance of Handel's Admeto in Amsterdam's Concertgebouw (recorded by EMI and then, thirty years later, reissued on CD by Virgin Classics), was hailed as the first successful attempt to revive Handel's opera orchestra, including the now widely-accepted but then unheard-of use of the archlute. Other prize-winning recordings included Stradella's Susanna, Cavalli's L’Erismena, and Bach's Goldberg variations (reissued on CD by EMI), French and English suites (Teldec CD), and about thirty other harpsichord discs. He has always been in the forefront of the movement to enlarge and revivify the static operatic repertory. A lavishly authentic revival of Landi's Il Sant'Alessio in Rome and Innsbruck in 1981 was an unexpected and stunning success, as were three different productions of the first Jommelli revival in modern times: La schiava liberata (Amsterdam, Naples, and Berkeley). Other remarkably successful 'reconstructions' have included Cesti's Il Tito, his Semiramide, and Handel's Rodrigo, which Curtis conducted in Innsbruck, Madeira and Lisbon in 1984 for the first time since Handel himself presented it to the Medici in 1707. Francesco Sacrati's La finta pazza, was given its first revival in three centuries in a specially-constructed Baroque theatre in Campo Pisani, Venice in a production by La Fenice in July, 1987. Among better-known but nonetheless unjustly neglected repertory, he has been a particular champion of Gluck's Armide, of which he has led three very different productions, including one with his own orchestra of period instruments at the Theatre Musical de Paris (Chatelet). He was also responsible for three different productions of Handel's Ariodante (La Scala '81 and '82 with Pier Luigi Pizzi, Innsbruck '82, and Wexford '85), and the first modern revival of Vivaldi's Il Giustino, at the Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza, later taken to Versailles, Venice, Milan, Buenos Aires, Houston and Ludwigshafen. With a different cast, he performed it again in Solothurn in 2000 and Rotterdam, De Doelen in 2001, where it was recorded for Virgin. He conducted the Portughese premieres, in Lisbon, of Handel’s Fernando (the original version, set in Portugal, of Sosarme), Monteverdi's Il ritorno di Ulisse and Mozart's Il re pastore, the latter staged and designed by Pier Luigi Pizzi. His new performing edition of Monteverdi's Il ritorno di Ulisse, first performed in Amsterdam's Concertgebouw, then staged in Siena in '91 and released the following year as a Nuova Era CD and revived in '93 for the Festival of Dresden, was published by Novello (2002) and staged for the Oslo Chamber Music Festival in 2006. For La Fenice, shortly before it burned, he conducted the first performances since the 18th century of Buovo d'Antona (designed by Pier Luigi Pizzi), Goldoni's opera buffa set to music by Traetta, later issued on CD by Opus 111. His madrigal group was invited by Werner Herzog to be protagonists in his 1996 documentary film on Gesualdo. Their CDs of madrigals by Michelangelo Rossi, Antonio Lotti, and the complete duets of Monteverdi on Virgin Classics (Diapason d'or 1999) have been highly praised by the international press, as have their subsequent recordings of two 17th-century dramatic oratorios: Il Sansone by Benedetto Ferrari (Diapason d'or 2000) and Assalonne punito by P.A. Ziani (Choc de la Musique). In the summer of 2000, he conducted a new production of Radamisto for the Halle Handel festival and, for the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, Handel's superb but practically unknown opera Arminio, which has appeared to international acclaim on CD for Virgin. The Handel Society of London voted it best Handel recording of the year 2001. In 2002 he conducted Handel's Giulio Cesare in Monte Carlo, Deidamia in Siena (recorded by Virgin and awarded both the Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik as best opera CD of 2003 and the 2004 International Handel recording Prize), and a program of Handel arias called 'La Maga Abbandonata' for the Resonanzen Festival in Vienna (Grosse Saal, Konzerthaus), subsequently a best-selling CD for BMG Classics, who also released the opera Lotario. More recently he and Il Complesso Barocco have recorded Handel’s operatic duets (“Amor e gelosia”) with Patrizia Ciofi and Joyce DiDonato, as well as his operas Radamisto and Fernando, and a masterpiece by the Viennese court composer Francesco Conti, the oratorio David (Virgin Classics). The list of highly-acclaimed Handel opera performances and recordings continues with Rodelinda, Floridante, Tolomeo, Ezio, Berenice, Giove in Argo, Alcina and Ariodante, the last two with Joyce DiDonato in the title roles. Using a brilliant reconstruction by Alessandro Ciccolini of the missing parts to Vivaldi’s newly rediscovered Motezuma, Il Complesso Barocco also made the first recording (DGG Archiv) as well as staged performances in Lisbon, Wiesbaden, Bilbao and Italy (available in DVD from Dynamic). In 2006 the same team produced the first modern reprise of Vivaldi’s Ercole su’l Termodonte, designed and staged by John Pascoe for the Spoleto Festival. For the 50th anniversary of this festival in 2007 Curtis was also invited to conduct a new production by Pascoe of Handel’s Ariodante (both productions also available in DVD from Dynamic). Other new recordings with Curtis conducting Il Complesso Barocco include Haydn operatic arias and overtures with Anna Bonitatibus, Porpora operatic arias and sinfonie with Karina Gauvin, Handel arias for Carestini with Vesselina Kasarova, and “Hidden Handel” with Ann Hallenberg, a collection of little-known but superb arias, some of them still unpublished. An unusual recent project was a Handel Bestiary, a collaboration with the celebrated novelist Donna Leon. Already a best-seller in German-speaking countries under the title Tiere und Töne, editions in other languages, including English, were brought out in 2011. It is a book of essays accompanied by a CD of twelve arias by Handel about twelve different animals, recorded for the occasion by Il Complesso Barocco and four soloists, all described, including legends from Medieval bestiaries, in Leon’s text, with accompanying illustrations by Michael Sowa. Other CDs issued in 2011 include Handel’s Ariodante with Joyce DiDonato, Gluck’s Ezio with Ann Hallenberg, Sonia Prina, Topi Lehtipuu and Max Cencic, “Streams of Pleasure” (arias and duets from Handel’s oratorios) sung by Marie Nicole Lemieux and Karina Gauvin, Domenico Scarlatti’s Tolomeo e Alessandro, as well as a DVD of Vivaldi’s Motezuma. Future plans include Handel’s Arianna in Creta, Vivaldi’s Catone in Utica, and two recently discovered operas by Gluck.
Il Complesso Barocco © 2007