Alan Curtis (1934—2015) has been a pioneer in the return to original instruments and Baroque performance practices, especially in the field of early opera. His dically new “reconstruction” of Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea, first heard in Berkeley in the ’60s, marked the first time in more than three centuries that a late dramatic work of Monteverdi was performed as intended by the composer, i.e. without the modern orchestration still often mistakenly thought to be “necessary”. He commissioned both the first authentic theorbo and the first chromatic (split-key) harpsichord to be built in modern times, and taught his singers to follow the tuning systems of the period (with pure major thirds). In collaboration with Shirley Wynne, he was the first to revive a Rameau opera with period instruments and authentic choreography. A landmark performance of Handel’s Admeto in Amsterdam‘s Concertgebouw was hailed as the first successful attempt to revive Handel’s opera orchestra, including the now widely accepted but then unheard-of use of the archlute.
He has always been in the forefront of the movement to enlarge and revivify the static operatic repertory. His successful “reconstructions” have included Sacrati’s La finta pazza, Ferrari’s Il Sansone, Cesti’s Il Tito, and Semiramide, Vivaldi’s Giustino, Motezuma, Ercole sul Termodonte and Catone in Utica, Domenico Scarlatti’s Tolomeo e Alessandro, and three Handel operas in prima assoluta: Fernando (the original version of Sosarme), Rodrigo, which Curtis conducted in Innsbruck, Madeira and Lisbon in 1984 for the first time since Handel himself presented it to the Medici in 1707 and, most recently, Semiramide (an opera by Vinci arranged by Handel) for the Wiener Kammeroper. He composed the missing recitatives for Gluck’s Demofoonte in time for a premiere in 2014, the 300th anniversary of the composer’s birth. But much activity of his late years has centered on Handel’s operas, both the famous ones and those almost unknown: Giulio Cesare, Rodelinda, Deidamia, Orlando, Admeto, Tolomeo, Arianna, Amadigi, Arminio, Lotario, Berenice, Ezio, Giove in Argo, Floridante, Alcina, Radamisto and Ariodante, the last four with Joyce DiDonato in the leading roles. Having for many years divided his time between Berkeley (California), where he taught at the celebrated University, and Europe, where he played and conducted concerts and operas, Curtis devoted his last years fully to performing and editing music for performance, principally dramatic music from Monteverdi to Mozart.