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Victoria Baroque lets loose with a concert celebrating risqué material

A tribute to the zanier side of British composer Henry Purcell is designed to make audience members blush and laugh in equal measure.


When: Wednesday, Nov. 22, 8 p.m. (doors at 7)
Where: Victoria Event Centre, 1415 Broad St.
Tickets: $25 from; $30 at the door

Victoria Baroque’s current season is a typically varied affair, with several prominent guests and main series concerts on tap through next year.

But of all the Baroque-period classical events the company has put together for its 13th season, one in particular stands higher than the rest — or lower, depending on your tastes.

Banned From the Concert Hall unites celebrated tenors Benjamin Butterfield, Isaiah Bell, and Timothy Carter for a “pub night” of bawdy, subversive material decidedly unfit for the whole family. Which is not by accident. The tribute to the zanier side of British composer Henry Purcell is the only baroque concert of the season — decade, perhaps? — designed to make audience members blush and laugh in equal measure.

“I’m not sure everyone goes around talking about their arse all day in Baroque circles,” Butterfield said with a laugh. “But this type of thing has been around a long time. This was their entertainment, of course. The whole notion that [baroque music] was all very formal is simply not true. You don’t have to look very far into Monteverdi to get the same idea.”

Purcell, who died in 1695, is considered among the greatest English composers, though largely for his operatic work. However, his legion of longtime followers (Benjamin Britten was a devotee) revered his “catches” (also known as “rounds”), which are meant to be sung in a casual environment with friends. The brand of humour is somewhat tame by today’s standards, but the composition skills remain extremely high.

The artistry at work belies the mischievous nature, Butterfield said. “Everybody has their drinking songs, but Purcell immortalized them. They are not simply fun little tunes, they are very clever with their wordplay.”

Bell, who came up with the idea for the program, and Carter studied under Butterfield at the University of Victoria. Though some audiences might favour performances by the trio based on less risqué material, the appeal of a pub night in the comfortable confines of the Victoria Event Centre was far too much for him to ignore. The successful operatic tenor may wear a tuxedo on occasion, but anyone who has met Butterfield knows he’s incredibly funny, and takes subversion very seriously.

“Look, if you’re having a good time up there, and can lead the way, everyone else is going to have a good time. There’s no point in sitting there being formal and miserable and expecting everyone to clap — that has nothing to do with it. It has everything to do with understanding what is going on, delivery, and a sense of something that is bigger than you.”

Banned From the Concert Hall, which features accompaniment from Mark McDonald on harpsichord, is one of two relaxed-atmosphere concerts at the Victoria Event Centre that Victoria Baroque is offering this season; the other, Bach in the Pub, is set for Jan. 15. Butterfield, for one, loves the idea. He sees a future where Purcell-era programming can be paired with contemporary material by everyone from Randy Newman and Warren Zevon to Noël Coward and Harry Nilsson.

“I love stuff like that,” Butterfield said. “It’s about irony and satire, and the cleverness of that.”

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