Claudio Monteverde’s opera L’Orfeo was composed for Il Carnevale of 1607. Within a few years, dramma per musica became a fixture of the festive season in Venice. By 1642, revelers could choose from no fewer than seven different productions.
But the tradition of theatrical entertainment during Carnival goes back even further. Commedia dell’Arte, performed by bands of traveling actors, attracted crowds with its broad farce, zany situations, and plot devices that remain staples of comedy to this day. Popular stock characters included Columbina and Pierrot, Brighella, Pantalone, and Arlecchino, a/k/a Harlequin. The masks and costumes associated with these figures have been a part of balls and fetes through the ages.
Learning Through Theatre, a British troupe, is one of several independent companies working to keep the Commedia tradition alive. Their play The Breath of Love will run September 13th through the 15th as part of the Stroud Theatre Festival in Gloucestershire. Cheryl Stapleton, LTT’s Artistic Director, will also be leading a workshop at 3 PM on the afternoon of Saturday the 14th.
Before there was soca, reggae, or ska, calypso was the signature sound of the West Indies. In Trinidad & Tobago, competition between calypso singers has been a key part of Carnival for more than a century. The genre has had few stars brighter than McCartha Monica Sandy-Lewis.
Ms. Sandy-Lewis, who performs as Calypso Rose, was born in 1940. This past April, she played at Coachella – the first calypsonian and the oldest artist to grace that festival’s stage to date. That same month, she released the single Young Boy in collaboration with Caribbean superstar Machel Montano.
Calypso Rose’s career is all the more remarkable when one considers that she hails from Tobago; most T&T performers are from Trinidad, by far the larger of the twin islands. In an idiom with more than its share of macho posturing, she has blazed a trail for female vocalists. In fact, the annual Calypso King prize was renamed Calypso Monarch in 1978 when Her Majesty took top honors.
In recent years, she has spent a lot of time in France. Her 2017 album Far From Home – produced by Manu Chao – went platinum in that country. Parisians will have a chance to behold a legend when she plays L’Olympia on October 9th.