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Bienen School celebrates Handel with Dunbar Early Music Festival

Visiting artists and scholars will participate in May 21-28 performances and events

Northwestern University’s Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music showcases the music of George Frideric Handel with its latest Evelyn Dunbar Memorial Early Music Festival. The centerpiece of the festival is Handel’s opera “Alcina,” complemented by a panel discussion and two pre-performance talks, as well as his cantata “Ode to St. Cecilia.”

Events will take place at Alice Millar Chapel, the Ryan Opera Theater and Cahn Auditorium on Northwestern’s Evanston campus.

Conductor Stephen Alltop said that Handel’s “Alcina” was selected for production not only because it is a spectacular opera, but because of its musical and dramatic suitability for a production at Northwestern. 

“‘Alcina’s’ magical elements lend themselves to a number of theatrical interpretations. The characters work nicely for double casting with students in the voice and opera program and the orchestral forces, while modest in size, offer fabulous opportunities for the exploration of Baroque style and performance practice,” Alltop said. “Similarly, the arias range from sublime and contemplative to bravura and virtuosic, affording wonderful chances for the singers to learn about vocal colors and embellishments in Handel’s music.”  

The schedule of events is as follows: 

Alice Millar Spring Festival Concert: Handel’s “Ode to St. Cecilia”
Sunday, May 21, 5 p.m.
Alice Millar Chapel, 1870 Sheridan Road

Stephen Alltop conducts the Alice Millar Chapel Choir and the Baroque Music Ensemble in a performance bringing together choral selections by Handel and Italian instrumental works. Composed over nine days in 1739 for a celebration of the patron saint of music, Handel’s “Ode to St. Cecilia” exalts the wonder and beauty of music itself in depictive arias and stirring choruses. Rounding out the evening are Antonio Vivaldi’s Flute Concerto in D Major (nicknamed “Il gardellino,” or “The Goldfinch”) and Giovanni Legrenzi’s Sonata prima for four violins and continuo.

Instrumental guests include Carla Moore and Emi Tanabe, baroque violin; Anna Steinhoff, baroque cello; Stephen Bard and Sung Lee, baroque oboe; and Brandon Acker, theorbo.  

Admission is free, and tickets are not required. A freewill offering will be accepted. 

Handel’s “Alcina”
Thursday, May 25, 7:30 p.m.
Friday, May 26, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, May 27, 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, May 28, 3 p.m.
Pre-performance talks at 6:45 p.m., May 25 and 26 by Alison C. DeSimone
Cahn Auditorium, 600 Emerson St.

Joachim Schamberger directs, and Stephen Alltop conducts a contemporary staging of Handel’s 1735 opera, a tale of mistaken identities and amorous pursuits. Alcina inhabits an imaginary enchanted island where she holds the power to turn her lovers into animals, plants and stones when she tires of a relationship. Sensing her hidden desire for genuine love, Bradamante and Melisso take her on a journey of healing and self-discovery, hoping to save the heroic Ruggiero from becoming another casualty in Alcina’s parade of transformed exes. But will Alcina’s own transformation come at a price?

“Alcina” is performed in Italian with English supertitles. Run time is approximately two hours.

Tickets are $18 for the public and $8 for full-time students with valid ID.

Tickets may be purchased online at, by phone at 847-467-4000 or by visiting the Bienen School Ticket Office at 50 Arts Circle Drive.

Panel Discussion on Handel’s “Alcina”
Friday, May 26, 3:30 p.m.
Ryan Opera Theater, 70 Arts Circle Drive

This panel discussion on “Alcina” and Handel operatic works and compositions will be led by Alison DeSimone. Panelists will include Bienen School faculty Joachim Schamberger, the director of opera, conductor Stephen Alltop and members of the “Alcina” cast.

The discussion is free and open to the public.

Artist Bios:

Director Joachim Schamberger’s productions have appeared in the U.S., Germany, Italy, France, the Czech Republic, Brazil, Norway, Israel, Japan and China. An avid opera educator, he is on the faculty at many young artist festivals and guest lectures at conservatories throughout the world. Prior to becoming director of opera and artist-in-residence at the Bienen School, he served as visiting professor of opera at DePauw University. Schamberger is a graduate of the Musikhochschule in Würzburg, the Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst Mannheim and the Merola Opera Program of the San Francisco Opera. He studied digital film production and 3-D animation at the New York Film Academy.

A conductor, harpsichordist and organist, Stephen Alltop (’96 DMus) is director of music for Alice Millar Chapel, conductor of the Baroque Music Ensemble and an instructor in conducting, harpsichord and oratorio. He also serves as music director for the Apollo Chorus of Chicago, the Green Lake Choral Institute and the Elmhurst Symphony Orchestra. Alltop has guest conducted numerous choruses and orchestras across the U.S. and led opera and orchestral concerts with Italian orchestras including I Soloisti di Perugia, Fondazione Arturo Toscanini (Bologna) and Teatro Reggio Orchestra (Parma). An active musician in historic performance practices, he has performed as harpsichordist and organist with Boston’s Handel and Haydn Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Chicago Bach Project, Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra, Music of the Baroque and the Omaha Symphony.

Alison C. DeSimone is associate professor of musicology at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, where she teaches courses in music of the Renaissance and Baroque, opera history and specializes in 18th-century topics. She has published a co-edited essay collection called “Music and the Benefit Performance in Eighteenth-Century Britain” (Cambridge University Press, 2019) and a monograph entitled “The Power of Pastiche: Musical Miscellany and the Creation of Cultural Identity in Early Eighteenth-Century London” (2021, Clemson University Press). DeSimone holds a Ph.D. in historical musicology from the University of Michigan. She has published widely in numerous early music journals and is currently an associate editor of “The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation.”


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Baroque Music Ensemble of Northwestern University. Photo credit: Alessandra Esquivel
Baroque Music Ensemble of Northwestern University. Photo credit: Alessandra Esquivel
Alice Millar Chapel Choir. Photo credit: Melanie Ahn
Alice Millar Chapel Choir. Photo credit: Melanie Ahn
Stephen Alltop. Photo credit Bruce Powell.
Stephen Alltop. Photo credit Bruce Powell.
Alison C. DeSimone.
Alison C. DeSimone.
Joachim Schamberger. Photo credit: Bruce Powell
Joachim Schamberger. Photo credit: Bruce Powell