| by Jason Warburg
Professor Joe McClinton has been a self-described “opera geek” since he was a freshman in high school checking opera recordings out of his local library in Pennsylvania. In the intervening years, he mastered German, Italian, and French and even had aspirations at one point to become a conductor. Still, when the opportunity came years later to join forces with Celiné Ricci, the indefatigable founder and artistic director of Ars Minerva, to help translate a long-lost opera from the early years of the tradition in Venice, it seemed like a match made in heaven.
Ricci wanted to rescue Daniele da Castrovillari’s La Cleopatra from the archives of Venice’s Biblioteca Marciana, where it had been gathering dust since its premiere in 1662. The printed libretto and the score are two different documents and, as Joe would later realize, contain fairly substantial differences.
Joe began by translating the 350-year-old libretto from Baroque Italian into English to help the performers better understand the very complicated plot. The next stage involved fine tuning the translation for a modern audience, which involved significant rephrasing to add lyricism and emotion.
Joe sat in on rehearsals to be sure his translation would match what was happening on the stage. He laughs when he describes the storyline, which is considerably more complicated than the traditional Anthony and Cleopatra story, and includes other love triangles as well as the escapades of a lecherous nurse and a hapless would-be assassin.
The first modern production of the opera in San Francisco this spring received rave reviews from sold-out audiences and hard-to-please critics. In the early years of Venetian opera, performances were like social gatherings connected to the annual carnival, and revivals were rare. That leaves Ars Minerva with a wealth of old operas in need of resuscitating, and Joe is looking forward to the possibility of more operatic adventures ahead.
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