For the Family Concert performance on March 1, Greg Funfgeld will give an engaging introduction to the elements of opera for young people entitled “Before there was Phantom of the Opera, there was opera!”
Middle and high school students will especially enjoy the lively wit in this musical telling of episodes from the life of the young Johann Sebastian Bach as he embarks on his career at age 18. Young children will also find much to enjoy in this imaginatively staged and costumed drama.
Composer Chuck Holdeman was commissioned by The Bach Choir of Bethlehem to write the opera. Holdeman is principal bassoonist of the Bach Festival Orchestra and is also well known as a composer through his works for the Delaware Symphony Orchestra and Music School as well as for chamber music ensembles in the U.S., England and France. His one-act opera Agostino and the Puccini Clarinet, with libretto by Vincent Marinelli, was premiered in 2007 at the Music School of Delaware, and produced again in 2008.
Young Meister Bach is written in a style which Holdeman describes as “Neo-Bach”:
Librettist Bill Bly is a second tenor in The Bach Choir of Bethlehem and an award winning writer who taught playwriting and literature at the New York University Tisch School for the Performing Arts for 20 years. He says the central character of the opera is “not the J.S. Bach we are used to imagining, but a restless, cocky, even arrogant young man who hasn’t yet brought his brilliant inventiveness and tremendous energy under control.” Responding to Holdeman’s music for the exuberant opening chorus, Bly wrote a sonnet on the dramatic theme Holdeman had in mind, “a genius who with mortals must contend, must push the rules to see which ones will bend!”
Young Meister Bach opens in 1705, two years after J.S. Bach landed his first job at age 18 and the action takes place over the following three years. Holdeman’s starting point in thinking about the opera back in 2009 was the famous story of Bach’s brawl in the town square with a young bassoonist named Gyersbach, which led to multiple court appearances, each with a different version of the fight. In the opera, the audience is left to decide who is right. Another major theme is the developing romance between Bach and his cousin Maria Barbara Bach. The third scene, involves both a love scene and a musical sight-reading wager between Bach and his musician friend Johann Walther: To his extreme embarrassment, Bach loses the challenge in the presence of Maria Barbara. Also included is the famous episode of Bach’s 250 mile journey on foot to visit Dietrich Buxtehude, one of the most accomplished and innovative musicians in all of Europe. In researching this period of Bach’s life, Holdeman and Bly attest that their major sources were The New Bach Reader supplemented by Christoph Wolff’s biography J.S. Bach: The Learned Musician. Interestingly, the premiere of the opera comes within a few months of the publication of John Eliot Gardiner’s Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven which has gained new public awareness for the episodes in Bach’s life referenced in the opera.
Tickets for the Family Concert on Saturday March 1 are $18 for adults and $6 for students up to age 22. Group discounts are available. For information and ticket reservations call 610.866.4382, ext. 15 or 10, or visit The Choir’s website: www.bach.org
Tickets for the Philadelphia Concert on Sunday March 2: 215-627-2322, germansociety.org
The Bach Choir of Bethlehem
The Bach Choir of Bethlehem