March 25 concert: Musica Raritana presents arias for castrato

The Musica Raritana Period Instrument Orchestra explores operatic music for alto castrato in aMark Chambers concert set for 8 p.m. Friday, March 25, at the Mason Gross Performing Arts Center in New Brunswick. The performance features British countertenor Mark Chambers. Andrew Kirkman conducts.

The program includes arias and instrumental pieces by rival 18th-century composers George Frideric Handel and Nicola Porpora. The orchestra, a mix of 16 professional and student musicians for this program, will perform on strings, horns and wind instruments that would have been heard in 18th-century performances. Mason Gross students Sungji Kim, a coloratura soprano, and Andrew Stuckey, baritone, will perform as well. Look for selections from Porpora’s Polifemo and Handel’s Alcina.

The castrato was a male singer castrated before puberty to preserve his soprano range. Kirkman says hearing male singers perform material originally intended for the castrato is rare these days, particularly in the United States.

“Yet when you listen to Porpora's showstopper Senti il fato, or Handel's Sta nell'ircana,” he says, “it's not at all hard to see why the castrati were the rock stars of their day. This music is very virtuoso and very exciting. This will be quite a first for us, and I think for most, if not all, those who hear it.”

Tickets for the March 25 concert are $15 for the general public as well as for Rutgers alumni, employees, and seniors, and just $10 for students with valid I.D. The Nicholas Music Center is in the Mason Gross Performing Arts Center, 85 George Street (between Route 18 and Ryders Lane), on the Douglass Campus of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, in New Brunswick. For more information about any Mason Gross event, visit or call the Mason Gross Performing Arts Center ticket office at 732-932-7511. Media inquires: Laurie Granieri, 732-932-7591, ext. 516;

About Music Raritana
Musica Raritana was formed in 2004 in the context of the biennial meeting at Rutgers of the American Bach Society. Its aim is to provide a venue for students to acquire experience in playing period-instrument style, both to expand their experience of playing generally and to open up work opportunities that would not otherwise be available to them. To that end, it offers concerts each year coached by senior players in the field. Past programs have included a reconstruction of C.P.E. Bach’s Hamburg benefit concert of 1786 (including music by C.P.E. Bach and J.S. Bach) and a program of “Sturm und Drang” music by Haydn and his contemporaries. The group has also ventured into opera, with Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas and the U.S. premiere of Haydn’s opera Le Pescatrici.

Photo courtesy Mark Chambers