Artemisia: Light and Shadow is a new opera about the life of Italian painter Artemisia Gentileschi. Artemisia’s life was by no means easy, and this new opera proved that point. I had the unique experience of being able to work closely with the entire artistic team from Artek that day and witnessed first hand just how much passion went into this show. Sarah Chalfy, who played Artemisia and was the only actor in the entire show, took full advantage of the concert halls’ acoustics to not only demonstrate her vocal prowess, but to make you feel the pain and suffering that Artemisia went through. This new opera took taboo subjects such as rape and prejudice towards women and made them center stage. It truly showed how the struggles Artemisia dealt with back during the 16 century are unfortunately the same struggles that many women still face today.
COURTESY OF ARTEK
From an artistic standpoint, the art and music fit perfectly together. Gwendlyn Toth, the musical director and Harpsichord player, went about finding music for this opera from another trailblazing woman-- Barbara Strozzi, a 17 century composer who faced similar challenges to Artemisia. The musicians themselves are some of the best when it comes to Baroque and Renaissance music. Toth is “recognized as one of America’s leading performers on early keyboard instruments” and regularly travels abroad to do tours of Europe, performing music on historical instruments. Christa Patton, the harp player, is recognized as “an early harp specialist with a particular focus on the early 17th century.” Patton is also a music educator who works at the City University of New York, Rutgers and Queens College.
The combination of the harpsichord and the harp provided a wonderful accompaniment to Chalfy. Neither the instruments nor the vocalist overpowered each other and instead worked together as one unit who raised each other musically. In addition, the musicians and the vocalists raised the beauty of the art of Artemisia by providing a sense of authenticity that would not have been noticed and/or appreciated without the music.
However, there was so much more to this opera than just it’s music. As Toth put it during the pre-concert chat, “We strived to make this opera not only artistically beautiful but also one that modern audiences can connect with.” In doing so, Drew University actually served as a successful proof of concept for Artek. By setting up, doing a dress rehearsal, performing and then proceeding to tear down this opera all within a days time has ensured them that this opera can be brought to many other small liberal arts schools. In talking to Gwendlyn after the performance, she went onto exclaim how this show is ideal for small liberal schools where the performance space is not large, and the show can flex its co-curricular muscles by addressing majors such as art, art history, music, women and gender studies and history, to name a few. Be on the lookout for upcoming performances of this show at other universities. It is certainly not one to be missed.