by Camilla Tassi **Blog Competition**
In my background as an early music singer and computer scientist, I find myself asking questions regarding performance of early repertoire in the contemporary age. Carissimi’s Jepthe was first performed in 1648 at the S.S. Crocifisso oratory in Rome. Its audience was surrounded by the architectural and visual elements/frescos of the venue, which are missing from today’s concert performances. At present, we are hundreds of years, and miles, away from the composer’s intended location of the piece’s performance, we do not speak the language of the work, and we may not come from its cultural and religious environment. The music speaks to us, but we lack a layer of accessibility to the composition that can help us understand it at a fuller, more complete, level. This role provides the chance for design and movement to evoke the missing layers.
In designing the projections for this work, I took a musical grounding: each prevalent musical key area is represented by a color. For example, blue is for G major, red for F major (often associated with Jepthe), A minor as white (a key introduced during the most tragic portion of the story’s prophecy), and so on. On the other hand, for the more representational imagery, the inspiration came from the text and narrative. This is seen in the battle of Ammon, which includes an image depicted by 17th-century baroque painter Nicolas Poussin, who spent most of his life working in Rome. At times, the musical writing’s density was of interest: the single vertical line for the narrator’s voice is contrasted by a large number of intersecting lines relating to the SATB texture during the first full chorus “Transivit ergo Jepthe”.
Language is wedded to the music. As a result, translations are incorporated as part of the set, not as separate elements. I was interested in avoiding program note translations or supertitles, which are located away from the performers, in order to instead keep language as part of the central narrative action.
The relationship across mediums (audio and visual) is one that continues to raise questions and provide various interpretations. Dartmouth’s campus and collaborations across art forms provides the platform for experimentation in performance. Projection is similar in properties to light in movement, color, intensity and distribution—all areas that one comes across in this production, particularly in transitions and animated imagery. In this work, the staging and projections work in conjunction to bring the dramatic narrative and music of Jepthe to a secular performance space—all in the spirit of the baroque period’s spectacle and history.