The Seasons

Saturday, November 11, 2023 • 7:30 p.m.
First Free Methodist Church (3200 3rd Ave W)

Harmonia Orchestra & Chorus
William White, conductor
Natalie Ingrisano, soprano
Zach Finkelstein, tenor
Charles Robert Stephens, baritone


Franz Joseph Haydn (1732 –1809)
Die Jahreszeiten, Hob. XXI:3

About the Concert

Haydn’s last major work, The Seasons, is an operatic oratorio brimming over with hummable tunes and lively orchestration.

About the Soloists

Natalie Ingrisano

Soprano Natalie Ingrisano performs as a soloist, chamber musician and professional chorister in the Pacific Northwest. Recent engagements include solo roles in Bruckner’s Requiem, Mozart’s Requiem, Couperin’s Leçons de Ténèbres, Handel’s Messiah, Charpentier’s Te Deum, Vivaldi’s Gloria, Magnificat and Vespers, the Monteverdi 1641 Vespers and Johann Ernst Galliard’s The Hymn of Adam and Eve, as well as Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 with the Northbrook Symphony. As a professional chorister she is a resident member of the Mägi Ensemble, frequently performs with the Emerald Ensemble, and in 2021 sang with The Benedict XVI for their inaugural season in San Francisco. Ms. Ingrisano received her Bachelor and Master of Music degrees from the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University and is a graduate of the Artist Diploma in Early Music program at Cornish College of the Arts. She recently finished recording her first solo album of Baroque music with harpsichordist Jillon Stoppels Dupree and frequently appears as a guest lead singer with the Celtic band The Beggar Boys and in a local Celtic trio.

Zach Finkelstein

American-Canadian tenor Zach Finkelstein is a leading soloist in North America and abroad, from Seattle’s Benaroya Hall to New York’s Lincoln Center to London’s Sadler’s Wells to the National Arts Center in Beijing, China. His 2017 debut CD, Britten and Pears: The Canticles, was released on Scribe Records. In the concert world, Mr. Finkelstein is known for his “refined” and “elegant” interpretation (Vancouver Observer) of the works of Bach, Mozart and Handel (including Samson, Israel in Egypt and Alexander’s Feast). In 2018, he stepped in on an afternoon’s notice as soloist in Carmina Burana with the Seattle Symphony, and in March 2022 sang both the Evangelist and the tenor arias (the latter on short notice) in Bach’s St. Matthew Passion with Harmonia. Hailed by Anthony Tommasini of The New York Times as a “compelling tenor,” he made his New York City Opera debut as Mambre in Rossini’s Mosè in Egitto. He is also an evangelist for new and contemporary works, an oeuvre he discovered as a two-time Vocal Fellow at the Tanglewood Music Festival. Mr. Finkelstein holds an Artist Diploma (Voice) from the Royal Conservatory of Music’s Glenn Gould School in Toronto and a Bachelor of Arts (Honors) in Political Science from McGill University.

Charles Robert Stephens

Baritone Charles Robert Stephens has enjoyed a career spanning a wide variety of roles and styles in opera and concert music. His performances have shown “a committed characterization and a voice of considerable beauty” (Opera News, 1995). At the New York City Opera he sang the role of Professor Friedrich Bhaer in the New York premiere of Adamo’s Little Women, and was hailed by The New York Times as a “baritone of smooth distinction.” Other NYCO roles since his debut as Marcello in 1995 include Frank in Die tote Stadt, Sharpless in Madama Butterfly and Germont in La Traviata. He has sung on numerous occasions at Carnegie Hall in a variety of roles with the Opera Orchestra of New York, the Oratorio Society of New York, the Masterworks Chorus and Musica Sacra. Now based in Seattle, Mr. Stephens has sung with the Seattle Symphony, the symphonies and opera companies of Tacoma and Spokane, Portland Chamber Orchestra, as well as many other musical organizations across the Pacific Northwest, and joined the roster of Seattle Opera in 2010 for the premiere of Amelia by Daron Hagan. He currently serves on the voice faculty at Pacific Lutheran University and maintains a private studio in Seattle.

Program Notes

Franz Joseph Haydn
Die Jahreszeiten, Hob. XXI:3

Haydn was born in Rohrau, Lower Austria, on March 31, 1732, and died in Vienna on May 31, 1809. He began work on his oratorio The Seasons in 1799, completing it in 1801 and conducting the first performance on April 24 of that year. In addition to chorus and soprano, tenor and baritone soloists, the work calls for pairs of woodwinds (including piccolo, plus contrabasoon), 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, percussion, continuo and strings.

From 1762 until 1790, Franz Joseph Haydn served as kapellmeister to Prince Nicholas I of Esterházy, primarily at his Eszterháza palace 100 km southeast of Vienna. Upon the death of Nicholas, his successor reduced the size of the court orchestra (along with Haydn’s salary), but allowed the composer to travel abroad. At the behest of the impresario Johann Peter Salomon, Haydn made two lengthy visits (during 1791–1792 and 1794–1795) to England, where his music was exceedingly popular.

In London (where he composed some of the most famous of his hundred-plus symphonies), Haydn attended a Handel festival at Westminster Abbey. Haydn had first been introduced to Handel’s oratorios by Baron Gottfried van Swieten during the 1780s, but upon hearing Messiah in London he called Handel “the master of us all” and later proclaimed he felt “as if I had been put back to the beginning of my studies and had known nothing at that point.”

Before leaving England, Haydn received an anonymous libretto adapted from Genesis that had purportedly been intended for Handel. Back in Vienna, he entrusted van Swieten to adapt the libretto into a German text suitable for a grand oratorio in the style of Handel, resulting in one of Haydn’s greatest masterpieces, The Creation. Baron van Swieten subsequently pressured Haydn to tackle another oratorio, this one loosely based on The Seasons, an epic blank-verse poem by Englishman James Thomson. In four parts (one for each season), Die Jahreszeiten mixes choruses and ensemble numbers with recitatives and arias for bass, soprano and tenor in the roles of characters (invented by van Swieten) named Simon (a farmer), Hanne (his daughter) and Lukas (her suitor).

Haydn repeatedly expressed his displeasure with van Swieten’s libretto, along with some of the baron’s suggested tone-painting, particularly the “wretched idea” to depict croaking frogs near the end of the “Summer” segment: “This whole passage, with its imitation of the frogs, was not my idea: I was forced to write this Frenchified trash.” When van Swieten insisted upon translating his text into French and English himself, the results were rather unfortunate and may explain the cooler reception given The Seasons in non–German-speaking countries. (The supertitles for this performance use a newly prepared English translation by William White.)

The first (private) performances of The Seasons took place in Vienna on April 24 and 27, and May 1, 1801, at palace of Prince Johann Joseph Nepomuk Schwarzenberg (where The Creation had premiered in 1798). “Silent devotion, astonishment and loud enthusiasm relieved one another with the listeners,” wrote future Haydn biographer Georg August Griesinger in the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung, “for the most powerful penetration of colossal ideas, the immeasurable quantity of happy ideas surprised and overpowered even the most daring of imaginations. &0133; From the beginning to the end, the spirit is swept along by emotions that range from the commonplace to the most sublime.” The empress Maria Theresa sang the soprano parts in back-to-back performances of The Seasons and The Creation at the Hofburg palace on May 24 and 25. The first public performance of The Seasons followed on May 29 at the Redoutensaal theater.

Haydn was a year short of his 70th birthday when The Seasons premiered. He would live another eight years, but the oratorio would be his last major work: he blamed his toils on The Seasons for “a weakness that grew ever greater.” Nevertheless, Carl Friedrich Zelter wrote to Haydn, “Your Seasons is a work youthful in power and old in mastery.” And Michael Steinberg asserts that it “ensure[s] Haydn’s premiere place with Titian, Michelangelo and Turner, Mann and Goethe, Verdi and Stravinsky, as one of the rare artists to whom old age brings the gift of ever bolder invention.”

— Jeff Eldridge