Countertenor Fireworks

Date & Time

Sunday, November 6, 2022 2:30 pm
Monday, November 7, 2022 7:30 pm


Geoffrey McDonald conductor

Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen countertenor


Henry Purcell Abdelazer Suite

Evan Williams Sinfony
Steven R. Gerber Composer-in-Residence

George Frideric Handel Sinfonia from Agrippina

Stille amare” from Tolomeo

Symphony – Allegro from Saul

“Impious wretch” from Saul

Symphony – Larghetto from Saul

“O Lord, whose mercies numberless” from Saul

Christoph Willibald Gluck “Che faro senza Euridice” from Orfeo ed Euridice

Antonio Vivaldi Overture from L’Olimpiade

“In si torbida procella” from Bajazet

“Cruda sorte” from Bajazet

Ottorino Respighi Ancient Airs and Dances Suite No. 3

We explore the range and virtuosity of the Baroque countertenor through favorite works of Handel, Gluck, and Vivaldi. We also hear the premiere of Steven R. Gerber Composer-in-Residence Evan Williams’ “Sinfony” inspired by the French overtures of Handel.


Perelman Theater
The Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts
300 S Broad St
Philadelphia, PA 19102


75 Minutes

Program Notes

Abdelazer Suite
Henry Purcell (1659-1695)

Abdelazer was one of the final plays for which Purcell composed incidental music, adding his contribution for a revival of the play only months before his death in November of 1695. Written by prominent female playwright Aphra Behn, the revenge tragedy originally premiered in 1676, being an adaptation of the earlier work: Lust’s Dominion. Spending time as a spy in Antwerp for Charles II and a (possibly apocryphal) period in debtor’s prison, Behn led an extraordinary, international life and is buried among England’s greatest personalities, Purcell himself included, in Westminster Abbey. The numerous movements of the piece are an example of the variety of style necessary for engaging incidental music that reflects the drama of its source. Elegant movements, such as the Minuet, precede lively pieces and dance rhythms. The famous second movement, Rondeau, may sound especially familiar as a fragment of this movement was used as the basis for Benjamin Britten’s The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra.

Evan Williams (b. 1988)
Steven R. Gerber Composer-in-Residence

Before the symphonies of Haydn, the term “sinfonia” was used for a variety of musical works, including those incorporating instruments and voices. During the Baroque period, it became synonymous with what we would now call an “overture” to an opera or oratorio.

Sinfony takes its inspiration from the French overtures of Georg Frederic Handel, particularly that which opens his Messiah.

Evan Williams

Sinfonia from Agrippina
“Stille amare” from Tolomeo
Symphony: Allegro
from Saul
“Impious wretch” from Saul
Symphony: Larghetto from Saul
“O Lord, where mercies numberless” from Saul

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)

Throughout his career, Handel wrote a total of 42 operas and theatrical works, and the program today highlights three of these: Agrippina, Tolomeo, and Saul. Agrippina premiered in 1709 and, while it was the sixth opera Handel wrote, it was the first to gain him an international reputation. This opera tells a story of a power struggle in ancient Rome that alluded to the tension in Rome at the time it was premiered. Handel depicts corruption in his score by incorporating an element of whimsy on the surface with deceptive devices hidden underneath. Tolomeo, premiering 19 years later, also portrayed the duplicity of power. This opera finds Handel at a very different point in his career, having lost his theatre and lead singers to a rival. Tolomeo tells the story of a man (Tolomeo) dethroned in favor of his brother and forced to disown his wife in order to marry another woman. The height of Tolomeo’s tragedy can be heard in “Stille amare,” in which he senses his imminent death after drinking poison. Finally, we hear one of Handel’s final operas premiered in 1739, Saul. Noticing the change in public taste, Handel turned to the drama of the Old Testament. Handel utilized one of the largest orchestras possible for the period, allowing for extraordinary moments throughout the opera. In “O Lord, whose mercies numberless,” a shepherd boy prays to ease the temper of Saul, who is mentally unstable and furious with jealousy.


Geoffrey McDonald

Geoffrey McDonald is a dynamic presence at the forefront of America’s contemporary opera scene, known for his “original and flexible musical imagination” (Observer) as well as his confident technical command on the podium. Described by The New York Times as “an agile conductor…whose pacing is sure in both reflective and restless passages,” critics and audiences alike have lauded Mr. McDonald’s musical sensitivity across an uncommonly wide range of repertoire, as well as his ability to build and maintain dramatic intensity over the course of an opera. A committed advocate and trusted interpreter of new opera, he has led workshops and world premieres of operas for leading companies, such as Washington National Opera and Opera Philadelphia, working with prominent composers, including Jennifer Higdon, Kevin Puts, Missy Mazzoli, Nico Muhly, Lembit Beecher, Carlos Simon, Gregory Spears, and Kamala Sankaram, among others.

In the fall of the 2022-23 season, Mr. McDonald returns to Toledo Opera to conduct a double bill of Suor Angelica/Cavalleria Rusticana and rejoins the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia for a concert of baroque music featuring countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen. As Music Director of New York City’s On Site Opera (OSO), a ground-breaking company that has earned the adulation of opera veterans and new audiences, he will lead two productions, including a revival of their critically acclaimed staging of Amahl and the Night Visitors.

Highlights from the 2021-2022 season include Grace McClean’s In the Green at Mannes Opera, On Site Opera’s immersive production of Gianni Schicchi, a performance of new works by Robert Patterson and Herschel Garfein for Mostly Modern Projects, and a return to Wolf Trap Opera for a production of L’Amant anonyme (Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges/Desfontaines after Mme. de Genlis).

Having conducted the world premiere of Sky on Swings (Beecher/Moscovitch) at Opera Philadelphia, Mr. McDonald will return to lead the world premiere of Woman with Eyes Closed (Higdon/Dye) (COVID19 – rescheduled for 2024). Other highlights from past seasons include Flight at Minnesota Opera, Hänsel und Gretel at Opera Saratoga, Idomeneo at Wolf Trap Opera, La finta giardiniera at Atlanta Opera, Elizabeth Cree at Chicago Opera Theatre, and Sweeney Todd with Curtis Opera Theatre.

At home as a performer/arranger of contemporary, traditional, popular, and historically informed instrumental performance, Mr. McDonald is adept at forging new paths that incorporate elements of each. Since joining New York City’s On Site Opera in 2015 as the company’s first Music Director, he has demonstrated a unique ability to marshal performances of the highest musical standard in a variety of immersive settings. As Observer’s review of OSO’s Barber of Seville described it, “Geoffrey McDonald repeated the miracle of nuanced coordination between orchestra and singers he recently accomplished with Orlando downtown.” Of other recent OSO performances, The New York Times noted, “Geoffrey McDonald drew stylish, nimble playing”, elsewhere admiring his “grace and verve”, while Opera News has praised his “sensitivity and control.”

He has appeared as guest conductor with the National Symphony Orchestra, Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, International Contemporary Ensemble, Gotham Chamber Opera, American Symphony Orchestra, Bard Festival Players, Theater und Orchester Neubrandenburg/Neustrelitz, West Bohemian Symphony Orchestra, and historical instrument ensemble Grand Harmonie.

In addition to professional opera performance, Mr. McDonald has an impressive record as an engaging conductor-educator, having served as Music Director of the Longy Conservatory Orchestra in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Bard College Orchestra, the Philadelphia Young Artists Orchestra, and the Columbia University Bach Society. He remains a committed advocate of music education and audience outreach and, to that end, is currently working toward a Ph.D. in music psychology at the University for Music in Freiburg, Germany, with a focus on audience impressions of time and musical coherence in the classical repertoire.

Mr. McDonald earned his master’s in orchestral conducting at Mannes College of Music, where he studied with David Hayes, and was the recipient of the Alma Askin Scholarship, the Felix Salzer Techniques of Music Award, and the Mannes Theory Essay Prize. He has received additional instruction and mentorship from Neeme Järvi, Paavo Järvi, Leif Segerstam, Leonid Grin, and Sir Gilbert Levine, whom he assisted on PBS-televised productions of Bruckner’s 9th Symphony and Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis. He studied conducting with Michael Pratt at Princeton University and, upon earning his bachelor’s degree (Summa Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa), was awarded the inaugural Edward T. Cone Memorial Prize for excellence in combining music scholarship and performance.

“Che faro senza Euridice” from Orfeo ed Euridice
Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714-1787)

Premiering in 1762 in Vienna, Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice contrasts the typical opera seria used at the time. Gluck sets the mythical tale to a gallant and melodious score. The story follows Orpheus’s efforts and use of musical gifts to save his beloved Euridice from the underworld. “Che faro senza Euridice” is heard during the climax of the story, at the begging of Act III. At this moment, Orpheus does not trust Euridice’s presence behind him, therefore failing to do what is necessary to save her. It is then that he sings the most famous aria from the opera, “Che faro senza Euridice.”


Ancient Airs and Dances Suite No. 3
Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936)

Ottorino Respighi was a scholar of early music, and his knowledge of most evident in his three suites of Ancient Airs and Dances. Italian and French lute music from the early 17th century is the inspiration for each of these suites. Respighi’s passion for arranging this early music for modern performance is especially evident in Suite No. 3. A popular Italian melody by an anonymous composer of the early 17th century is the basis of the first movement, Andantino. The second movement takes from Jean-Baptiste Besard’s Arie di Corte (Airs of the Court). Another anonymous melody from the early 17th century inspires the pastoral Siciliana in the third movement. The fourth and final movement is based on the repetition of a passacaglia from Capricci armonici sopra la chitarra spagnola by Ludovico Roncalli.

Overture from L’Olimpiade
“In si torbida procella” from Bajazet
“Cruda sorte” from Bajazet 

Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)

Opera was a well-established and beloved artform by the time Vivaldi began composing. Throughout his career, he would write just over 50 operas and theatrical works. L’Olimpiade tells the story of athletic and romantic rivalries at the Olympic Games in Ancient Greece. In classic Italian overture style, the overture to L’Olimpiade comes in a three-part, fast-slow-fast structure. Vivaldi utilized a different common trope in Bajazet. The pasticcio was an opera brought together by a variety of musical sources. Vivaldi composed originals arias for this opera, as well as adapted arias from three other composers: Riccardo Broschi, Geminiano Giacomelli and Johann Adolph Hasse. “In si torbida procella” is an example of a storm aria, typically heard with exciting trumpet interjections.

Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen

Acclaimed as a “young star” and “complete artist” by the New York Times and “extravagantly gifted… poised to redefine what’s possible for singers of this distinctive voice type” by the San Francisco Chronicle, American countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen is one of the classical vocal world’s most promising rising stars. He has been awarded by many major competitions, including the Grand Prize of the 2017 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and a 2017 Sara Tucker Study Grant and 2022 Richard Tucker Career Grant from the Richard Tucker Music Foundation. His first commercial recording project – the world premiere recording of Kenneth Fuchs’ Poems of Life with the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by JoAnn Falletta – was honored with a 2019 GRAMMY® Award in the Best Classical Compendium category, which recognizes albums with multiple soloists and multiple works.

In the 2022-23 season, he will make three distinguished European debuts: at Bayerische Staatsoper Munich in his role debut as Endimione in David Alden’s production of Cavalli’s La Calisto, led by Christopher Moulds, at Komische Oper Berlin as David in a new production of Handel’s Saul by Axel Ranisch, conducted by David Bates, and at The Glyndebourne Festival in his role debut as Athamas in Handel’s Semele, in a new production by Adele Thomas, led by Václav Luks. No less vibrant is the artist’s concert calendar – highlights include role debuts as Hamor in Handel’s Jephtha with Chicago’s Music of the Baroque led by Dame Jame Glover, and as Didymus in Handel’s Theodora with Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, led by Richard Egarr, and Messiah with Masaaki Suzuki and the San Francisco Symphony, with Jeffrey Thomas and American Bach Soloists, and with Scott Hanoian leading the Ann Arbor Symphony under the auspices of the University Musical Society. Other concerts include programs with Geoffrey McDonald and the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, and with Matthew Dirst and Ars Lyrica Houston.

Highlights of recent opera seasons include his Metropolitan Opera debut as Rosencrantz in the Met and U.S. premieres of Brett Dean’s Hamlet in the Neil Armfield production conducted by Nicholas Carter, his debut at the Opernhaus Zürich in a world premiere ballet creation choreographed by Christian Spuck upon the music of Monteverdi’s Madrigals conducted by Riccardo Minasi, and Aryeh’s first staged performances of Giulio Cesare in Egitto at West Edge Opera in a new production directed by Mark Streshinsky and conducted by Christine Brandes.

Role debuts also include Oberon in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Adelaide Festival in the acclaimed Neil Armfield production conducted by Paul Kildea, David in Barrie Kosky’s heralded production of Handel’s Saul at Houston Grand Opera conducted by Patrick Summers, Medoro in Handel’s Orlando at San Francisco Opera under the baton of Christopher Moulds, and Ottone in Handel’s Agrippina in staged performances with Ars Lyrica Houston conducted by Matthew Dirst. 

On the concert stage, Aryeh made his Russian and role debuts in the title role of Handel’s Giulio Cesare in Egitto with the Moscow Chamber Orchestra led by Christopher Moulds and he sang Prince Go-Go in Ligeti’s Le Grand Macabre with the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra led by James Gaffigan at the Concertgebouw. He has given performances of Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms with the Buffalo Philharmonic, Handel’s Saul with Nicholas McGegan and the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra (professionally recorded and available on all leading streaming platforms), Bach’s Christmas Oratorio with Matthew Dirst and the Portland Baroque Orchestra, and Handel’s Messiah with the San Francisco Symphony and Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. He gave his Australian recital debut under the auspices of the Adelaide Festival accompanied by pianist Konstantin Shamray, bowed in a world premiere by choreographer Yuri Possokhov with the San Francisco Ballet, and he recorded a program of Gluck, Handel, and Vivaldi for his first solo album with Jeffrey Thomas and the American Bach Soloists.

The New York City native became the first countertenor in the history of the Houston Grand Opera Studio during the 2017-18 season, and he was a member of San Francisco Opera’s prestigious Adler Fellowship program for 2018-19.

Aryeh is a graduate of the Merola Opera Program at San Francisco Opera (2016) and the Wolf Trap Opera Studio (2017). His additional accolades include First Prize in the 2017 Houston Grand Opera Eleanor McCollum Competition and the 2017 Irvin Scherzer Award from the George London Foundation. He was First Prize Winner and Audience Choice Award recipient at the 2018 Dallas Opera Guild Vocal Competition, winner of a 2019 William Matheus Sullivan Musical Foundation Award, and he was Third Prize Winner in the 2019 edition of Placido Domingo’s Operalia. He was First Prize winner of the 2022 James Toland Vocal Arts Competition and the 2022 Brava Opera Vocal Competition.

Aryeh earned a Bachelor’s degree in History from Princeton University (with a concentration in Intellectual and Cultural History) and received academic certificates in Vocal Performance and Judaic Studies. During his senior year, he became the first singer in a decade to win the Princeton University Concerto Competition. Upon graduating, he was awarded the Isidore and Helen Sacks Memorial Prize for extraordinary achievement in the arts, granted each year by Princeton University to the student of greatest promise in the performance of classical music.

He currently resides in Northern California with his wife Abbi, and he serves as Western Region Soloist Representative on the board of the American Guild of Musical Artists, the union that represents America’s operatic, dance, and choral artists.