Francesco Cavalli: La Calisto
Ensemble OrQuesta, Marcio da Silva
Cockpit Theatre, 31 January 2020
I arranged to see Cavalli’s La Calisto on the evening of the UK’s Brexit, sandwiching it between two pro-EU vigils in central London. I thought it would take my mind off the goings-on in Parliament Square, but soon had second thoughts. It opens with a Prologue where Nature, Eternity and Destiny meet to decide whether any humans are worthy of elevation to everlasting fame and divinity – a glory for which some humans actively promote themselves. The opera proper starts after the earth has been mistakenly destroyed by poor decision making by the powers that be. Giove arrives with his side-kick Mercurio to take back control and “restore calm to earth”. He finds the nymph Calisto in a deep depression at the sad state of things, and promptly tries to seduce her. It is soon apparent that Giove is a serial philanderer, adulterer and a serial liar of monumental proportions. So much for taking my mind off current political things.
Giove & Calisto (John Holland-Avery & Helen May)
Innsbrucker Festwochen der Alten Musik 2018
Innsbruck, 23-25 August 2017
The Innsbruck Festival of Early Music runs annually for about three weeks during August. It was founded in 1976 and has traditionally focussed on Baroque opera. In recent years it has included three each season, including the Barockoper:Jung. This uses singers chosen from the finalists of the previous year’s International Singing Competition for Baroque Opera Pietro Antonio Cesti, named after Antonio Cesti, a 17th-century Italian singer and composer who served at the Innsbruck court of Archduke Ferdinand Charles of Austria. Unfortunately, I was only able to attend for three days but those included two of the operas and the Cesti final.
Serpent and Fire
Il Giardino Armonico, Anna Prohaska
Royal Albert Hall. 2 August 2018
Serpent and Fire is probably a better concert title that ‘Two Suicidal African Queens’, but Anna Prohaska’s exploration of the musical characters of Dido and Cleopatra certainly delved the emotional issues that caused both Queen’s demise. Despite her plea to ‘forget my fate’, Dido’s end is etched in all music-lovers minds, and it closed this late-night BBC Prom. Purcell’s Ah! Belinda providing the opening, introducing the Anna Prohaska’s beautifully clear and pure voice, and her use of the gentlest of vocal inflexions, quite correctly, as an ornament, for which I will readily forgive her the occasional tendency to slightly slur notes together. She later joined the very rare catalogue of early music singers who can produce a proper trill, rather than just relying on vibrato. The curious pauses in Ah! Belinda were the first of a number of directorial oddities provided by conductor Giovanni Antonini.
Francesco Cavalli: Hipermestra
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, William Christie
Glyndebourne Festival Opera. 21 May 2017
For somebody who believes an oracle that he will be murdered by one of his nephews, it was particularly unfortunate that Danao, King of Argos, had 50 of them, the sons of his brother Egitto, King of Egypt. As it happened, Danao had 50 daughters, so married them all off to his nephews with the instruction that they must all murder their husbands on their wedding night. With one exception, Danao’s plan worked, the exception being his daughter Hipermestra and her new husband Linceo, who had fallen for each other. The subsequent plot of Cavalli’s 1658 opera is based on the complex series of events that occurred after the 50 potential murderous nephews were now reduced to a more manageable one. Continue reading
English Touring Opera: three 17th-century ‘Venetian’ operas
Handel Xerxes, Cavalli La Calisto, Monteverdi ‘Ulysses’ Homecoming’
English Touring Opera
Hackney Empire. 8, 14, 15 October 2016
English Touring Opera (ETO) has built a solid reputation for their two annual opera tours around England. In their most recent season, they visited 91 venues, with two groups of fully-staged operas (sung in English) plus various wider educational and community projects. It is a remarkable organisational undertaking and a tough call for the singers in each tour, with many singing in two operas and covering a role in the third. Usually touring two or three operas in the spring and autumn, they open with one-off autumnal London showings before hitting the road. Their choice of operas usually has a theme, or is otherwise related in style and period. This year’s autumn focus is on early operas written in, or inspired by, Venice, with Handel’s 1738 Xerxes, Cavailli’s 1651 La Calisto, and Monteverdi’s 1639 “Ulysses’ Homecoming” (Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria), performed in reverse order to the dates of composition, and premièring in the magnificent surroundings of the Edwardian Hackney Empire. Continue reading
Monteverdi: Messa a Quattro voci – Vol 1.
Coro COR16142. 71’29
Monteverdi: Dixit Dominus (Primo), Confitebor tibi Domine (Secondo), Lauda Jerusalem; Cavalli: Magnificat; Monteverdi: Laetatus sum, Nisi Dominus, Laudate pueri, Laetaniae della Beata Vergine, Beatus vir.
In the last two years of his life, Monteverdi collected a substantial amount of his music for publication (the Madrigali guerrieri et amorisi, 1638, and Salve morale et spirituale, 1641), reflecting his musical output over the previous decades. After his death, one of his publishers had the good sense, or the commercial sense, to put together some unpublished manuscripts to form the 1650 Messa a 4 v. et salmi a 1–8 v. e parte da cappella & con le litanie della B.V. This is the first of two CDs from The Sixteen of music from this posthumous collection: the Mass setting of the title will be on the second volume. This CD includes a selection of liturgical pieces, but not in any specific liturgical context, with several Vespers Psalms, a Litany to the Virgin Mary and a Magnificat by Cavalli who probably assisted in the preparation of the publication. Continue reading