Bourbon Baroque Aims High With Collaborative Eighth Season

Bourbon Baroque knows how to party like it’s 1699. The classical chamber ensemble devoted to musical works of the Baroque period (roughly 1600-1750) is known for staging works in unexpected venues and forging innovative partnerships, like their wildly popular collaboration with Squallis Puppeteers adapting Jean-Phillipe Rameau’s opera “Les Sauvages” into a kid-friendly yet sophisticated zoomorphic romp. The group just released details of their eighth season, with several intriguing collaborations in the works.

“I am huge believer in the understanding that the more collaborative we make our performances, the further our music will reach,” said co-artistic director John Austin Clark. “We can’t assume the Louisville audience will just get our music because we, the musicians, do.”

“It’s grouping these amazing people together that fuels my desire to pursue Bourbon Baroque every year,” he added. “Bourbon Baroque needs to serve as an avenue for great artistry, not just a chamber group that plays Pachelbel’s Canon in a stylized way.” 

The first performance is a guided tour through Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 2 on September 15 with baroque flute player Leela Breithaupt and Louisville-based Baroque expert Dean Karns, a retired professor of music theory and harpsichordist who will discuss how Bach utilized French Baroque dance rhythms in his orchestral suites. An assortment of Bach’s other works will also be performed.

In search of a venue for the Bach evening, Clark, who leads the ensemble with Nicolas Fortin, stumbled across a fortuitous bottle, which led him to schedule the event at Old 502 Winery (120 S. 10th St).

“This particular wine was a dessert wine labeled ‘Bach’s Wine,’” he said. “Needless to say: instant score.”

The venue for their holiday performance of Handel’s “Messiah” (Nov. 29-30) is a bit more traditional, but Clark says St. Brigid’s Catholic Church on Hepburn Avenue was “so hospitable” for last year’s concert that they’re returning. Also, he notes, it’s all about location, location, location.

“Where else could you perform the Messiah in a beautiful acoustic directly across from an ale house by the name of Holy Grale? A match made in (ahem) Heaven,” he said.

The holiday production features an instrumental orchestra of 17 and vocals by soloists Emily Albrink Katz (soprano), Audrey Walstrom (mezzo soprano), Steven Paul Spears (tenor) and Jim Rittenouse (baritone) as well as the Youth Performing Arts School Chamber Choir, under the direction of Jacob Cook.

In the spring, the group moves to the big stage with an ambitious production of Henry Purcell’s English Baroque opera “Dido and Aeneas” in the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts’ Bomhard Theatre (March 14). Clark admits that it was daunting to dream up a production that would be a fit for the venue.

“I first thought a small orchestral recital featuring a singer, but then I woke up one morning and thought, go big or go home,” he said. “Opera is big, so we went with Purcell’s ‘Dido and Aeneas,’ a very audience friendly-opera.”

“Dido and Aeneas” is the love story between Dido, Queen of Carthage, and the Trojan hero Aeneas. Purcell takes the audience on a journey through witches, enchantresses, sorceresses, spirits, and sailors of the sea with Dido and her best friend Belinda, as they both deal with Aeneas’ fickle nature.

Both shows feature movement. Director Sarah Edgar, who serves as associate director of the New York Baroque Dance Company, will dance the Telemann suite and choreograph a trio of contemporary dancers as the Greek Chorus (Tamara Begley, Ami McCullen and Amber Marquez) who will perform with pantomime actors en masque Abigail Bailey Maupin (Dido) and Gregory Maupin (Aeneas), both of the late Le Petomane Theatre Ensemble and this year’s Kentucky Shakespeare acting company.

Clark says part of his job as an artistic director is to constantly keep track of what other performing arts groups are doing, and to “steal great ideas and use them.”

“Our ‘Dido’ is the result of seeing performances that moved me. The Maupins’ training is classically-based, which lends itself for many different styles. Their breadth of theatrical knowledge will be such a huge asset. Having Tamara, Ami, and Amber dance in a modern fashion to Purcell’s music will be fascinating to watch,” he said.

The roles of Dido and Aeneas will be sung by Kristine Hurst and Chad Sloan, with Marie-France Duclos appearing as Belinda and Lindsey Adams Frank as the sorceress. Again, the YPAS Chamber Choir under Cook’s direction will round out the stage.

“Dido and Aeneas” is a three-act opera, but the run time is only an hour. To round out the evening, the company also presents what Clark calls “a cinematic short” by German Baroque composer Georg Philipp Telemann, “La Putain.”

“Yes, it is what you are thinking – an entire orchestral suite bidding homage to our beloved ladies of the oldest profession,” he said. 

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