Ercole su’l Termodonte, RV 710, Sinfonia. II (Andante)

It’s been a whole week since I posted something on this blog. My sweety and I had a visit from one of our lads who lives away. It was our first time together with him in almost two years.

We had a wonderful time, including some family dinners and gatherings and other outings. Our home was a hub for many comings and goings over the past ten days. And after an emotional drop-off at the airport this morning, the house was quiet this afternoon as I wrote.

Meanwhile this past week, I caught a cold, probably my first in about eight years, so I’ve been feeling low energy through a busy week, catching a snooze here or there whenever I could.

Thinking of all that, today, being Classical Sunday, seemed like a good day to post a rather pleasing piece I’ve heard on the Classical A.M. playlist a few times since subscribing to Apple Music (as I explained a few weeks ago).

In 1723, Italian Baroque composer, violinist, teacher and Roman Catholic priest Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) set to music the opera Ercole su’l Termodonte (Hercules in Thermodon). He conducted and played solo violin at its premiere that same year.

Similar to the misogynist practice in England during Shakespearean times, a mandate by a pope of the Catholic Church prevented women from appearing on stage in Rome. Therefore, the female roles in Vivaldi’s opera were sung by castrati (males who were castrated before puberty or did not reach sexual maturity due to other physiological factors). Whenever I read of this practice, I think, what a barbaric tradition! Unfortunately, the patriarchal attitudes that led to such gruesome customs and the displacement and dishonouring of women are still alive and well in many institutions and cultures.

In what seems a series of ironies, this particular opera portrays the ninth of twelve legendary labours of the Greek hero Hercules. In this particular one, he attacks the Amazons, a tribe of female warriors, and captures Martesia, the daughter of Queen Antiope. In turn, the Amazons capture Hercules’ fellow traveller Theseus, but the queen’s daughter Hippolyte falls in love with him, preventing him from sacrifice. What drama!

Today’s selection is a lovely piece of music. It’s soft, calming and beautiful, and comes from French-Italian mezzo-soprano Lea Desandre’s album Amazone (2021). On it, she is accompanied by the Jupiter Ensemble and its creator and artistic director, Thomas Dunford, a French lutenist. Desandre explores Amazonian themes and the way composers treated characters embodying the duality of female/male identities.

The album comes at a time when western society is finally beginning to recognize gender fluidity or ambiguity, a philosophy entrenched in Indigenous culture for thousands of years. However, the West’s evolution of the concept of gender is often subject to attack by those it does not affect in any real way; those whose deeply-held ignorances and prejudices keep them rooted in a black-and-white mindset; one that denies the rights and needs of others. A former colleague once described such folk as “CAVE people”(Citizens Against Virtually Everything). Theirs is the same narrow-mindedness that upholds marriage as a rite that can only be conducted between a man and a woman, while at the same time pretending not to condemn anything different than their privileged, white, heterosexual upbringing.

Thankfully, true inclusivity is not a new idea, though it still seems to face an uphill challenge in many of the places it is needed.

Now you know a little about why this is My Song of the Day for Today. Thanks for joining me here, and please enjoy.

Here’s the audio from the Thomas Dunford YouTube topic channel:

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