I recently performed in an opera. A bit of background first: I’m a classically trained violinist who specialises in historically-informed performance (or, HiP). That means I try to perform in a manner which reflects how the original players may have performed rather than in the standard, modern way. This may involve use of ‘period instruments’ and slightly different postures and different approaches to various musical techniques like vibrato; my own technique has changed quite a bit since I began exploring baroque violin in 2009.
For me historical performance makes the music make (better) sense. Mozart on a Steinway grand is great, but Mozart on a fortepiano comes alive in ways I find difficult to articulate. At the end of the day though, what we tend to value as listeners are things such as: imagination, innovation, and musical, sensitive interpretations; not what kind of bow is in use (I think Janine Jansen’s Four Seasons is a great example of this).
But back to this opera. It is an obscure English baroque work by John Frederick Lampe (pictured), called The Dragon of Wantley (first performed, 1737). My friend and harpsichordist was conducting and I managed to inveigle my way in to play in the orchestra. It’s a small one, comprised principally of undergraduate music students. There are a few other baroque specialists keeping me company and it has been an interesting journey as we have challenged the playing style of modern classically-trained students.
I can say the opera came along swimmingly and we had good feedback from various early music gurus in attendance. It’s been fun and challenging raising issues of historical performance along the way, but I think everyone’s happy to get back to using vibrato now. So is there such a thing as a hip opera? I say, YES.