Evenings of Great Songs & the Stories Behind Them

What makes an Arte Lyrica evening different?

For a long time we were called Cambridge Lieder & Opera Society; we performed art songs, duets, opera arias and ensembles, and some fully-staged opera (operas you may remember: Purcell’s Dido & Aeneas, and the Boston-area premieres of Handel’s Rodelinda and Lee Hoiby’s Julia Child monologue, Bon Appetit!)  We shortened our name and for a while still produced opera, but now perform mostly our unique vocal music concerts. Since we are no longer producing opera's we have changed our name to Arte Lyrica. Even if you’ve attended many vocal concerts, ours will be a different experience for you for these reasons:

The Narration

Since the day she founded the company, Artistic Director and mezzo-soprano Susan Cooke wanted the concerts to include narration that informed and entertained the audience. A former radio news anchor and writer with a master’s degree in music, she researches and writes the narrations which have been widely praised by audiences. Audience members often say the narration is an important part of the evening for them, making their musical experience more meaningful, and more fun as well. It’s made better still with a great radio voice to deliver it, and for almost all Arte Lyrica concerts that’s the voice of Lisa Mullins, anchor of The World on WGBH FM.Besides appealing to people new to this kind of concert, the narration pleases longtime lovers of this music as well. “There’s usually something surprising, fascinating, or funny about composers that someone doesn’t know or at least has forgotten,” Susan says. “I search for that and for intriguing things to say about the poem and the song itself. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to get information straight from the composer. For example, Lee Hoiby has several times answered our questions about what he was thinking when he wrote a piece we’re performing—often with interesting or wry comments the audience enjoys.”

The Musicians

We’re privileged to select from this area’s enormous pool of talented musicians. We feature two to four singers on a concert, or sometimes one singer and an instrument besides the piano. We recently featured guest harpist Mary Jane Rupert playing solos as well as accompanying some of the songs. Harp and voice are beautiful together and we wanted to experiment with that. She transcribed some piano accompaniments, and in one case created an accompaniment for a folk song. Shiela Kibbe, our accompanist, heads BU's Department of Collaborative Piano, and has been praised by the Boston Globe as a superb collaborative pianist.

The Programs

We choose a theme such as An Evening in Paris, then select the best vocal music we can find from all periods, including some folk and Broadway. Sometimes we experiment, as in Opera Mystery Night, when we commissioned an original mystery. We hired an actor to play the detective character, made well-known opera scenes and arias part of the plot, and asked famous New England mystery writers to narrate the story. There were costumes and sets too--it was great fun and a hit with the audience. For Bon Appetit! the singer playing Julia Child (Laurie Lemley) used real ingredients for the chocolate cake Julia bakes, beating egg whites while singing, and flinging chocolate on the audience—they were falling off their chairs laughing.We also sometimes produce duet concerts, finding wonderful duets audiences have rarely heard (incuding the series, Two Voices).

The Setting

 We perform in an intimate, salon-style room that’s in the large, old house that is Longy’s Rey-Waldstein building. People feel they’re in a living room, and can hear the distinct quality of each voice and instrument. They can participate in the concert in an intimate way not possible in a typical hall. This creates a unique mood—audiences these days are rarely that close to music as it happens. They often tell us, as do many of our singers, what a striking and joyful experience it is for them. We try to extend that feeling with coffee, tea, and dessert afterwards in the lobby. It’s the house’s foyer, it’s pleasant and cozy, and people talk to each other and to the performers. This decreases even further the usual distance between audience and performer and is a nice touch. And it’s a great way for people to meet each other.


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