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[whitespace] A Bit Mad

Baroque Festival focuses on dance inspired by a spider's bite

By Scott MacClelland

AMONG HIS WRITINGS on magnetism, the adventuring 17th-century Jesuit scholar and polymath Athanasius Kircher made a brief reference to tarantism, the affliction of hysteria suffered by Italians bitten by the tarantula. Kircher was the definition of a Renaissance man, with an appetite for nearly every kind of subject matter and a history of finding himself--or putting himself--in dangerous situations, such as having assistants lower him into the caldera of the Vesuvius volcano. He was scientist, author, teacher, Egyptologist, astronomer, mathematician and even composer.

According to Bay Area cellist Amy Brodo, organizer of this Saturday's Santa Cruz Baroque Festival program, the tarantula's bite is toxic but not life-threatening. Nevertheless it spawned a superstition that gave rise to the wild and supposedly curative dance known as the tarantella. On the subject of tarantism, Kircher wrote down several tarantellas in his notebook.

Brodo's program, "La Tarantella Fresca," explores the high-charged 6/8 meter dance from its folk origins to its appearance in baroque chamber music by Salvatore Lanzetti, an 18th-century cellist who raised the level of virtuosity on his instrument to nearly that of Vivaldi on the violin.

Naples-born Lanzetti toured Northern Europe and found great success in London where he lived for two decades. It was there that he wrote his most original works, a collection of sonatas for cello and basso continuo, which he dedicated to his patron, Frederick, the Prince of Wales.

Brodo was introduced to the sonatas by a teacher in Italy. "They are incredibly imaginative," she enthuses, "virtuosic, flamboyant, operatic, and they allow room for improvisation." Brodo soon recognized that some of Lanzetti's movements were plainly bitten by the tarantella, the impetus that led to this program.

Brodo also turned up information that Lanzetti was perhaps a bit mad. His wife sought and won a divorce on grounds of torture. And a contemporary French commentator, Roland Barthes, wrote in 1776, "Despite its intimate, wise appearance, this music may be placed among the extreme arts. It gives expression to a singular, untimely, deviant even deranged subject."

To realize a variety of sound colors, Brodo will be accompanied by harpsichordist Linda Burman-Hall, flutist Lars Johannesson, cellist Paul Rhodes and baroque guitarist Mesut Ozgen. Castanets and a tambourine might also make an appearance, and Burman-Hall will play a tarantella by Muzio Clementi, the Beethoven-contemporary whose piano études are known--and often hated--by piano students everywhere.

The program also contains at least one salterello, another dance in 6/8 meter from the folk tradition. What's the difference? "Not much," says Brodo, "except the salterello is identified with Calabria while the tarantella comes from Taranto, Naples and Appulia."

Brodo's ensemble will share the spotlight with the Tony Flores Mandolin Band, featuring the octogenarian Flores himself plus Joe Weed on violin and mandolin, guitarist Paul Hostetter, contrabassist Vincent Flores and Robin Petrie playing hammered dulcimer. The Flores band will complement the baroque chamber music with a set of Neapolitan and Sicilian melodies and dances, including traditional folk tarantellas. Brodo promises a good time.

"The Lanzetti sonatas are rarely played and inexplicably underexposed," says Brodo. "It's incredibly interesting music, a kind of 'folk & baroque,' and makes you want to jump up and dance."

Maybe someone should bring some real live tarantulas; that would turn Brodo's promise into a guarantee.


Santa Cruz Baroque Festival will feature 'Italian Folk & Baroque' at UCSC Music Hall, April 20, 8pm. (457.9693)

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From the April 17-24, 2002 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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