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Throughout the late 16th and 17th centuries, the chronicles of historians and travelers in Italy provide images of a fabulous musical world inhabited by women – singers, players and even composers. Such images are all the more intriguing, considering the truly draconian restrictions governing virtually every aspect of these cloistered women’s lives, especially their music. Moreover, a veil of mystery surrounds this repertoire: the music written by and for the nuns often includes parts for tenor and bass voices, and the use of instruments was officially forbidden in the convents. How was this music performed?
Cappella Artemisia is an ensemble of female singers and instrumentalists that attempts to provide some answers to this question. Dedicated to performing the music from Italian convents in the 16th and 17th centuries, its repertoire includes both forgotten works composed by the nuns themselves, as well as music intended for performance in the convents by better-known male composers, but presented here for the first time as it would originally have been heard, i.e., without male voices.
Since its inception in 1991, Cappella Artemisia has received critical and popular praise both for the rarity and originality of its repertoire and for the high quality of its performances. It has appeared at some of the most prestigious European and North American festivals of early music and its concerts and recordings have been broadcast on radios throughout Italy, Europe and North America. The ensemble has ventured into the 18th century with the first performance in modern times of the oratorio Jahel by Baldassare Galuppi, composed for the girls of the Venetian Ospedale dei Mendicanti (in collaboration with the Orchestra Barocca di Bologna). And in addition to their traditional repertoire of music from Italian convents, the singers of the ensemble were also involved in a modern staging of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas in an all-women’s performance recalling that of 1689 at a fashionable boarding school in Chelsea for “Young Gentlewomen”.
Cappella Artemisia takes its name from the painter, Artemisia Gentileschi, a striking figure in 17th-century Italy whose artistic accomplishments are finally beginning to be recognized. We hope, under her auspices, to bring this same recognition to the neglected musical achievements of her forgotten contemporaries within the convent walls.