Musicians of the Old Post Road Presents “Baroque Diva”

March 11th, 2023, 4 pm, First Parish, Wayland, MA and live-streamed:

March 12th, 2023, 4 pm, Old South Church, Boston, MA

For over three decades, Musicians of the Old Post Road have delighted in their mission of uncovering, exploring, and performing the works of historically overlooked communities and individuals. Based in the Greater Boston area, the ensemble specializes in the period instrument performance of dynamic and diverse music from the Baroque to early Romantic eras, focusing on works that have been lost to audiences for centuries.

In March, the group returns for the second half of its 34th season with more live performances for both in-person and online audiences. On March 11 and 12, the ensemble pays homage to one of the original superstar prima donnas, Faustina Bordoni. Born to an aristocratic family in Venice on March 30, 1697, she studied with Michelangelo Gasparini under the patronage of brother composers Alessandro and Benedetto Marcello. She made her operatic debut in Venice in 1716 in Carlo Francesco Pollarolo’s Ariodante, and continued singing in her home city for 10 more years, performing in operas by Albinoni, the Gasparini brothers, Giacomelli, Leonardo Leo, Giuseppe Maria Orlandini, the Pollarolos (father and son), and Leonardo Vinci, among others.

It was during this time in Venice she met and sang with soprano Francesca Cuzzoni, who would later become her greatest rival. “Faustina,” as she was commonly known (apparently even in the 18th century, divas knew about the power of the mononym!), quickly gained celebrity status throughout Italy, Germany, and Austria. Her impressive vocal range and breath control, combined with her acting skills and beauty, made her one of the most sought-after performers in Europe; by 1722 her fame in her home country was such that a medal was created in her honor in Naples. After seeing her perform at the Vienna Court Opera in 1724, Handel was immediately captivated; he persuaded her to join his opera company, the Royal Academy of Music, and in 1726 she made the move to London. The company also included the star castrato Senesino, and, of course, Faustina’s rival, Francesca Cuzzoni.

Faustina was already a superstar by the time she moved to London, and her debut as Rossane in Alessandro was so successful, over the next two years Handel wrote four more roles for her: Alceste in Admeto, Pulcheria in Riccardo Primo, Emira in Siroe, and Elisa in Tolomeo. Journalists and musicians alike raved about her voice and her performances; composer and music historian Charles Burney commented on her perfect pitch and musical intelligence, and Johann Quantz wrote that she was “born for singing and for acting.”

As her fame and celebrity grew during these years, so did her rivalry with Cuzzoni. Their supporters displayed the passion and animosity seen in modern-day sports fans, as they booed and catcalled each other’s rivals on the stage, often to the point where the singers could not even perform over the noise. Their rivalry reached a head at an infamous performance of Bononcini’s Astianatte on June 6, 1727 in the King’s Theatre, when a riot broke out in the audience between the opposing supporters. Some sensationalized accounts state that the two singers engaged in a physical altercation on stage, coming to blows and pulling at each other’s hair. Pamphleteer John Arbuthnot wrote of the “most horrid and bloody battle between Madam Faustina and Madam Cuzzoni,” but most likely the scuffle was primarily between the ladies’ fans in the audience, as the singers continued to dutifully work together for another year. In the end, it was not the rivalry that ended their relationship, but the dire financial state of the Royal Academy, forcing the directors to dissolve the company in 1728.

Faustina returned to Italy and continued to enjoy success in her home country, without the distraction of her erstwhile rival. She also found love in Venice, with German composer Johann Adolf Hasse, whom she married in 1730. The following year the couple moved to the court of Augustus the Strong at Dresden, where Hasse would serve as maestro di cappella for over 30 years. Faustina was also engaged by the court (notably, her salary was twice her husband’s), singing in at least fifteen of Hasse’s operas; described by the librettist Metastasio in 1744 as “truly an exquisite couple,” Faustina and Hasse’s collaborations were always successful. Faustina continued to travel to Italy during this time, performing often in Naples, Venice, and Parma, until she retired from the stage in 1751. Fascinatingly, Faustina kept her salary and title of virtuosa da camera to the Elector until the death of Augustus’ successor, Frederick Augustus II in 1763. The couple moved to Vienna for a few years (during which Faustina was visited by Mozart in 1769), and eventually retired to Venice in 1773. She remained active through her twilight years; when visited by Charles Burney in 1772, he observed her to be “a short, brown, sensible, and lively old woman… with good remains… of that beauty for which she was so much celebrated in her youth.” Her final years were happy and prosperous, and Faustina died on November 4, 1781. She was survived by Hasse, who lived another two years, and two daughters, who were of course both trained singers, and a son.

Despite her incredible life and career, she is not widely known today outside of niche music circles, and much of her husband’s work is rarely performed, even though he was one of the leading composers of opera seria of his time. In their quest to shine light on overlooked musicians and works, Musicians of the Old Post Road will be bringing the musical presence of Faustina to life in its March concert, “Baroque Diva: A Tribute to Faustina Bordoni.” The program will feature works that were inspired by her immense talent, written specifically with her skill in mind, as well as instrumental selections by composers within her musical circles.

Grammy-winning soprano Teresa Wakim will be featured as the guest vocalist, performing outstanding and virtuosic arias by Pietro Torri (“Senti ti voglio ancor trafiggere quel cor”) and Jan Dismas Zelenka (“La sua disperazione”). The program will also include two arias by Handel written for Faustina from his opera Admeto (“Luce Cara” and “Io son qual Fenice”). And of course, a tribute to Faustina would not be complete without a work by her husband J.A. Hasse, so the ensemble will be performing what will likely be a regional modern-day premiere of his cantata “Pallido il volto.” Instrumental selections include the Flute Concerto in A Minor by Francesco Gasparini (which the ensemble originally revived in 2011), overtures by Handel and Hasse, and a trio sonata by Nicolo Porpora, who penned many arias with Faustina as his muse.

Ms. Wakim will be joined by flutist Suzanne Stumpf, violinists Sarah Darling and Jesse Irons, violist Marcia Cassidy, cellist Daniel Ryan, and harpsichordist Sylvia Berry, all of whom will play on period instruments. The first performance will be on Saturday, March 11th, 2023, at 4 pm EST at First Parish in Wayland, MA, and the second will be the following day, Sunday, March 12th, 2023, at 4 pm EST at the Old South Church in Boston, MA. In order to reach a wider audience, as well as patrons who might still be wary of the risks of Covid, the Saturday concert will be live-streamed at The Wayland concert is co-presented with the Wayland Museum & Historical Society (members receive a $10 discount on their ticket). The Boston concert is supported in part by a grant by the Boston Cultural Council. Programming is supported in part by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, an agency of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

The final concerts of the season for Musicians of the Old Post Road promise to be equally exciting; on April 29th and 30th, 2023, “Into the Light: Unearthed Treasures by Christoph Graupner” will celebrate the unveiling of lost works by Graupner, an unsung German composer who was as legendary in his day as his contemporaries Bach and Telemann. Unseen for centuries, his compositions are gradually coming to light. The program will include some of his concertos, suites, and sonatas along with works by his Darmstadt court colleague Count Ernst-Louis, his talented student Johann Fasch, and his good friend Telemann.

Musicians of the Old Post Road takes its name from its acclaimed concert series that brings period instrument performances of music of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries to beautiful historic buildings along New England’s fabled Old Post Road, the first thoroughfare to connect Boston and New York City in the late 17th century. Winner of the 1998 Noah Greenberg Award from the American Musicological Society, Musicians of the Old Post Road has also received programming awards from Chamber Music America and the US-Mexico Fund for Culture. The ensemble has toured in Germany, Austria, and Mexico, and has appeared at festivals and on concert series in the US, including the Indianapolis Early Music Festival, the Boston Early Music Festival Concert Series, the Castle Hill Festival, the Artists Series at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, and the Connecticut Early Music Festival. The ensemble has held a residency at Dartmouth College and was featured on WCVB television’s “Chronicle” program and 99.5 All Classical radio’s “Live from Fraser” program.

The ensemble’s discography includes seven recordings that have each been praised in the US and abroad. They include: The Virtuoso Double Bass (Titanic, 1994), Trios and Scottish Song Settings of J. N. Hummel (Meridian, 1999), Galant with an Attitude: Music of Juan and José Pla (Meridian, 2000), Quartets of Telemann and Bodinus (Meridian, 2004), Feliz Navidad: Christmas from Spain and New Spain (Meridian, 2008), and Roman Handel (Centaur, 2013). The ensemble’s 7th CD, Earthly Baroque, was released by Centaur in 2017.

For more information, visit, email [email protected], or call 781-466-6694.


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