Tuesday, February 12, 2013, starting at 7:30 pm, ROQOQOA presents the premiere performance in Boston of ESTHER, an oratorio by George Frideric Handel (1685-1759), with libretto translated into Hebrew by Rabbi Jacob Saraval (1707-1782). Singers include Alyssa Mae Doggett and Von Bringhurst, sopranos; Yakov Zamir, alto; Elijah Hopkin, tenor; James Dargan, bass; and members of Koleinu, Boston’s largest Jewish chorus, directed by Carol Marton. Orchestral accompaniment provided by Dr. Jonathan Wessler, at the keyboard. Tickets are $10 at the door. For updates, email Roqoqoa or find Roqoqoa on FaceBook.

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) was a German-born British baroque composer, famous for his operasoratorios, anthems, and organ concertos. Handel was born in 1685, in a family indifferent to music. He received critical musical training in Halle, Hamburg and Italy before settling in London (1712) and becoming a naturalized British subject in 1727. By then he was strongly influenced by the great composers of the Italian Baroque, and the middle-German polyphonic choral tradition. Handel is regarded as one of the greatest composers of all time, with works such as Water Music, Music for the Royal Fireworks, and Messiah remaining popular. Handel composed more than forty operas in over thirty years, and since the late 1960s, with the revival of baroque music and original instrumentation, interest in Handel’s operas has grown.

Somewhat surprisingly for an oratorio, ESTHER was originally staged or semi-staged. It began as a masque (HWV 50a), composed early in Handel’s English career, and before the body of his success as an opera composer. It was first composed and performed, probably, at Cannons, where the Duke of Chandos employed Handel in 1718 as resident composer writing for his patron’s singers and small orchestra. Little is known about this first version of ESTHER. It had a few other private performances but otherwise remained untouched for more than a decade thereafter.  In 1731, Handel had different needs since public tastes were changing. London’s most famous and popular composer of Italian operas was finding the enthusiasm of his audience for the genre to be waning. He returned to ESTHER, revised it, and presented an expandedoratorio version (HWV 50b) in a public premiere at the King’s Theatre in the Haymarket on 2 May 1732. The work was popular and was frequently performed as a staple of Handel’s oratorio repertoire throughout the rest of his career.

John Arbuthnot (1667-1735) and Alexander Pope (1688-1744) were the co-authors of the English libretto of Handel’s ESTHER, based on a play written by the French dramatist Jean Racine (1639-1699). John Arbuthnot was a physician, satirist, and polymath  in London.He is best remembered for his contributions to mathematics, his membership in the Scriblerus Club  (where he inspired both Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels book III and Alexander Pope’s Peri Bathous, Or the Art of Sinking in Poetry, Memoirs of Martin Scriblerus, and possibly The Dunciad), and for inventing the figure of John Bull.  Alexander Pope was an 18th-century English poet, best known for his satirical verse and for his translation of Homer. Famous for his use of the heroic couplet, he is the third-most frequently quoted writer in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, after Shakespeare and Tennyson,  The details of the provenance of the ESTHER libretto, the original text set in 1718 and the additions set in 1732 may well have been the subject of scholarly enquiry, but have not yet been discovered so that they might be included in this press notice.

Jacob Raphael ben Simhah Judah Saraval (1707-1782) was an Italian Rabbi, man of letters, and musician. Saraval was born in Venice. Saraval was one of the rabbis of Venice who supported Jacob Emden in his dispute with Jonathan Eybeschutz. He communicated with the English scholar, Kennicott, on subjects of biblical philology. In 1752 he was appointed rabbi of Mantua and many documents in the communal archives bear his signature. During the 1760s and 1770s he traveled to Holland and England on behalf of his community. When the anti-Jewish lawyer, Giovanni Battista Benedetti of Ferrara, published his Dissertazione della Religione e del Giuramento degli Ebrei at the beginning of the 1770s, Saraval rejoined with Lettera apologetica (Mantua, 1775). He was also known as a preacher, poet, and composer of piyyutim (liturgical poems), and engaged in various branches of secular culture – arts, literature, and music, in which fields he wrote many works. In addition he translated from various languages. One of his translations, the libretto of Handel’s oratorio ESTHER (apparently done at the request of the Jews of England and Holland), is one of the first free verse translations from English to Hebrew without recourse to the traditional meters.

Alyssa Mae Doggett (soprano) –singing the title role of Esther– was born and raised in Rexburg, Idaho where she began her vocal studies as a child. She received a BM in Vocal Performance at Brigham Young University- Idaho under vocal instructor and international opera singer Kristine Ciesinski. She then moved to Rochester, NY to study at the Eastman School of Music, where she earned her MM degree in Vocal Performance and Literature under the instruction of Katherine Ciesinski. Alyssa has participated in various competitions namely the MONC Auditions receiving the “Encouragement Award” twice, as well as the “People’s Choice” award, the Idaho Federation of Music Club’s competition, placing first, and the Friends of Eastman Opera competition, placing third.  Alyssa’s previous performances include Manon Lescaut in Massenet’s Manon, Stephanie in Jake Heggie’s To Hell and Back, Belinda in Purcell’s Dido and Aeneus, Lauretta in Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, Papagena in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, and Mabel in Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance.

Von Bringhurst (soprano) –singing the role of Israelite– completed a two year Master of Music in Vocal Performance degree last May at the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, MA. He is a native of Pocatello, Idaho, where he also attended Idaho State University. In Idaho, he has been a soloist with the annual Messiah Sing-In and was a soloist with the Camerata Singers of Pocatello, Idaho. He has toured to Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, and Peru with his college Chamber Choir, and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Music with Honors in 2009.Von worked as Music Director for the Opera House Theater Company in Philipsburg, MT in the 2008 season and was Music Director and Cremona Player for the Illustrious Virginia City Players of Virginia City, MT for their 2010 season. He sings with the choir of St. Paul’s Cathedral in Cambridge for the 2012-2013 season. Von performed with Metro Stage Company’s production of Chicago in October 2011, the Video Game Orchestra in 2011 and 2012, and as part of the Iberica Early Music Festival in August 2012.

Yakov Zamir (alto) –singing the role of Mordechai– received his vocal training in New York City, and at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and the Oberlin and San Francisco Conservatories of Music.  He has performed with orchestras, choirs and in concert series throughout the United States, including at Carnegie Hall and Weill Recital Hall in New York City, with the Opera Theatre of St. Louis in Missouri, and twice with the San Diego Symphony. Yakov appeared with most of the orchestras and other instrumental and choral ensembles in Israel. He has also performed in six cities in India; on the stage of an ancient Greek amphitheatre on the island of Cyprus; in the Langholtskirkju in Reykavik, Iceland; and at Covent Garden Opera House in London.  Since May 2008, Yakov produced and performed in seven concerts devoted to the songs of Robert Schumann in 2010, and seven concerts devoted to the songs and solo piano works of Franz Liszt in 2010-2011.  In August 2012, Yakov co-produced and sang in the Iberica Early Music Festival.

Elijah Hopkin (tenor) –singing the role of Ahasuerus (Achashverosh in Hebrew, Artaxerxes in history)– obtained his BA in Vocal Performance from Brigham Young University-Idaho in 2011before moving to Boston to dive into singing full time. Shortly after arriving in Boston he travelled to New York City to sing with the Copley Singers at the ten year anniversary of 9-11 hosted by Trinity Wall Street.  Elijah participates in multiple chamber ensembles including Canto Armonico, Camerata Obscura, Capella Clausura, and the Video Game Orchestra. He has sung solos with the St. Paul’s parish at Harvard Square and the Copley Singers, and was a principal organizer of the schola singers at First Lutheran Church Boston.  Elijah has recently begun a Masters in Early Music Vocal Performance degree at Longy School of Music of Bard College and is thrilled to be working with such knowledgeable faculty and peers there.

James Dargan (bass) –singing the role of Haman– is in increasingly great demand as an opera singer, concert soloist, and recitalist, and has been credited with “conversational flair” and a “creamy, rich quality” of voice. After degrees in literature, religion, and musicology from Boston and Leeds Universities, and a stint as a choral scholar at York Minster Cathedral (UK), James received voice lessons from Dr. Jerrold Pope and Liz Anker, and participated in masterclasses given by Lynn Torgove, Karyl Ryzcek, and Sondra Kelly; he has sung roles with Lowell House Opera, Boston Opera Collaborative, Helios Early Opera, the Juventas New Music Ensemble, Greater Worcester Opera, and OperaHub, and presented recitals at King’s Chapel and St John’s Episcopal Church, JP, as well as a recent recital debut at Trinity Cathedral in Miami. James also sings frequently at The Church of the Advent, is a new member of Emmanuel Music, a new addition to the roster of Boston Baroque, and is also a member of the Xerces Blue Ensemble, and a soloist and section member of The Cantata Singers.  As a violinist, James has had extensive training and experience in early music, improvisation, and all eras of chamber music; he has worked closely with Judy Tarling, Nicholas Kitchen, and members of the Juilliard String Quartet; he has performed in venues such as the Hollywood Bowl, Boston’s Symphony Hall and Jordan Hall, and Carnegie Hall; and premiered pieces by T.J. Anderson, Rodney Lister, and Penka Kouneva. James works as a freelance singer, violinist, and occasional teacher in the Metro Boston area.

Koleinu, Boston’s Jewish Community Chorus, founded in 2002, is a nearly 100-member chorus that performs Jewish choral music for audiences throughout Greater Boston. Koleinu is led by Carol Marton, Artistic Director; its accompanist is Victor Cayres. Koleinu’s primary mission is to provide its members, regardless of their previous musical experience or religious affiliation, an opportunity to learn, sing, and perform Jewish music in a meaningful way. The chorus brings the richness of Jewish music to audiences through concerts, festivals, interfaith, and multicultural programs, and has been praised for its expression, repertoire, and for the high musical standards it maintains as a non-audition chorus.

Carol Marton (choral conductor), Koleinu’s Founding Artistic Director, earned her Master’s Degree in Choral Conducting at Indiana University School of Music in 1992, where she studied with Jan Harrington and Thomas Dunn. Upon returning to Boston, she served as the assistant conductor for the Zamir Chorale of Boston and as the conductor of the Temple Emanuel Choir in Newton. Concurrently, she worked as a singer and soloist with several ensembles in the Boston area, including the Schola Cantorum of Boston, the Choir of the Church of the Advent, and the John Oliver Chorale. In addition to her work with Koleinu, Carol is the Founder and Artistic Director of Pandora’s Vox, a contemporary music ensemble for women’s voices. She also directs the Temple Sinai Choir in Sharon, MA. Carol is on the faculty of the School of Jewish Music at Hebrew College and she has taught conducting, vocal technique classes, workshops, and voice and piano privately. She has been a guest conductor at several New England Jewish Choral festivals. Carol is also the longtime Business Manager at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) in Boston and an avid cyclist. She lives in Jamaica Plain with her partner Claudia, her niece, Joanna, and her beloved cat.

Jonathan Wessler (organist) serves as the Assistant Organist at St. Paul’s Church and Choir School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His duties include accompanying the famous Choir of Boys and Men at Mass, directing the St. Paul Parish Choir and the Schola Cantorum, and teaching music theory and handbells in the Choir School. In 2011 he received the Doctor of Musical Arts degree in organ performance from the Eastman School of Music. He previously earned the Bachelor of Music degree in organ performance from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and the Master of Sacred Music degree from the University of Notre Dame. He has studied with Sherry Seckler, Christiaan Teeuwsen, David Boe, Craig Cramer, and William Porter. Jonathan holds the Colleague certificate from the American Guild of Organists and was a finalist in the 2007 Arthur Poister Organ Competition. He has served as the principal continuo player for the Peoria Bach Festival in Peoria, Illinois, where he also has been a featured performer on the organ and the harpsichord. He lives in Quincy with his wife, Joy, and their children, Julia and Matthew.