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Calliope originally came out as two octavo volumes with 400 plates and from the first of these volumes the songs have been chosen for the two CDs. They are performed here by The Frolick, an ensemble of baroque instruments, plus contralto Emma Curtis, who is author of the well-researched, highly entertaining and intriguing CD booklet.

She writes 'We play instruments that would then have been used in London and have sought to re-create the atmosphere of an evening entertainment in a London home.' But, in addition, her booklet reconstructs the surroundings and atmosphere of such evenings.

She lists various manifestations of London's artifice craze in which all of its addicts, by their necessity, appear as something or somebody which, in fact, they were not. In her book, she describes the extreme behaviour and dress people adopted to transform their identity:

'Society found actors and actresses particularly difficult to place -- they kept up the appearance of success and popularity, even when constantly fleeing creditors. Gentlefolk debtors would pawn their clothes, anything, to stave off creditors. Those aspiring to gentility could buy their clothes second, third or fourth hand, appearing fashionable beyond their means.'

And not only this but:

'In a time when society prized illusion and intrigue above all, subverting the accepted sexual system was fair game. Men with high voices ruled the stage, and cross-dressing abounded, avert or covert, detected or undetected, for comic affect [sic] or for survival. Men lived lives as women (Mollies) and women lived lives as men.' Nothing new there, then.

Curtis's written description of the grotesque, non-stop carnival in London's streets, bears a striking resemblance to the English artist Hogarth's street life engravings. The most famous of these, even today, is his set of eight engravings, The Rake's Progress, illustrating the dire consequences of depravity. This set appeared in 1737 and spawned Stravinsky's 1951 opera of the same name.

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Copyright © 6 May 2007 George Balcombe, London UK


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