Melodia lifts the veil on Vivaldi's Gloria
by Matthew Schlecht for Vocal Area Network
Posted April 25, 2019

Melodia: GloriaMusic always tells a story. Melodia Women’s Choir’s spring 2019 program presents the story of Antonio Vivaldi and the women and girls of the Ospedale della Pietà music conservatory and orphanage in 18th century Venice with “Gloria: Lifting the Veil on Vivaldi’s Masterpiece.” Directed by Christa Scott Reed, with a script by Brooklyn-based poet and writer Pam McAllister, the program will feature New York City actors Lynda Gravatt, Erika Rolfsrud and Katrina Michaels along with an all-female chamber ensemble and the Melodia choir.

“I had the idea to present it dramatically...to get away from the 'stand and sing' concert formula that we and most other choruses use, and to go for a creative approach that would really stimulate our audiences,” says Cynthia Powell, Melodia artistic director. “The whole phenomenon will come alive with the actors, Pam's wonderful script and Christa's expert direction.”

Choral audiences familiar with Vivaldi’s Gloria might not know the story behind it. In 18th-century Venice, abandoned girls who were taken in by the Ospedale della Pietà were also given the chance to train and perform with the institution’s choir and orchestra. Gloria was originally composed for this group of virtuosic young musicians.

Director Christa Scott Reed says, “There is something so deeply moving to me as a woman, as an artist and as a mother to learn about how these cast-off babies were taken in and trained as artists. That’s not to say their lives were easy—far from it—but their lives had value and beauty and I think it’s right to acknowledge in modernity what they contributed to music and culture for generations.”

Writer Pam McAllister began her research with the YA historical novel Vivaldi’s Virgins, by Barbara Quick. “[I]t’s a fabulous book, told from the point of view of one of the young girls who lives in the Ospedale della Pietà and is one of the figlie di coro (daughters of the choir),” she says. “Maestro Vivaldi and the shimmering city of Venice come to life in this novel. I loved it.” After reading several scholarly articles, McAllister says, the three characters of “Gloria”—the Prioress, Paola dal Soprano and Maddalena—took shape in her mind. “My favorite to act out was Maddalena, the worldly-wise, free-spirited aristocrat. We get to see Venice through her eyes, since the other two are cloistered in the Ospedale. All summer, I waltzed around the garden behind my Sunset Park apartment, pretending to smoke and saying in a low, sensuous voice, ‘Ah! Venezia! Venezia, La Serenissima ! Who doesn’t love Venezia?’ She was, by far, the most fun for me to bring to life.”

For the production, Broadway, film and television actor Erika Rolfsrud takes on the role of Maddalena, with Broadway, film and TV veteran Lynda Gravatt as the Prioress and Katrina Michaels, who brings Off-Broadway and regional theater experience, as Paola dal Soprano. “What wonderful actors to bring these characters to life,” McAllister says. Director Christa Scott Reed is currently directing works for the Irish Repertory Theatre’s Sean O’Casey staged reading series, and recently directed the off-Broadway revival of Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons.

The origins of "Gloria” remind us of the struggles endured by children born without privilege, both in 18th century Venice and today in the United States, but they also showcase the power of music, the power of a story. “Taking a tragic situation and turning it into a wondrous and creative endeavor is what appeals to me about this story,” Powell says. “Transforming the lives of youngsters through music can go a long way to changing this world.”


"Gloria: Lifting the Veil on Vivaldi's Masterpiece" will be performed at the Church of the Holy Apostles, 296 Ninth Avenue (at 28th Street), on Saturday, May 4 at 7:30 PM and Sunday, May 5 at 4:00 PM. Tickets are $25 ($20 in advance); students / seniors $15. Tickets are available at www.brownpapertickets.com/producer/5998. For more information, call 212-757-2945 or visit www.melodiawomenschoir.org.

Directed by Christa Scott-Reed; script by Pam McAllister. Featuring Lynda Gravatt, Erika Rolfsrud and Katrina Michaels. With an all-female chamber ensemble: Ji Soo Choi and Jaram Kim, violins; Stephanie Griffin, viola; Claire Marie Solomon, cello; Ha Young Jung, bass; Nancy Ranger, oboe; Kate Amrine, trumpet; Taisiya Pushkar, harpsichord.

Matthew Schlecht is a writer and editor in New York City.