Cavalli’s La Calisto

Last night was the first performance of this year’s production by the Glenn Gould Opera School at the Royal Conservatory.; the piece being Cavalli’s 1651 work La Calisto.  It’s one of those mythologically based pieces with a rather convoluted plot.  It starts with a prologue where various allegorical figures explain why Calisto, a nymph, should be immortalised as a constellation and then we flashback to the main action.  Jove (natch) fancies Calisto who is a chaste (and chased) devotee of the virgin huntress Diana.  With the help of Mercury Jove disguises himself as Diana and seduces Calisto.  This makes Diana and Juno (inevitably) very unhappy and Calisto is turned into a bear by the Furies though Jove reassures her that she will end up as a star.  Meanwhile there’s also sorts of stuff going on with Diana and a shepherd, Pan, assorted nymphs and a satyr.  Various permutations of women playing men pretending to be women etc allow for all sorts of broad sexual humour plus goat on goat action.  So it’s an odd blend of serious classical myth and pastoral farce that  works better when it doesn’t try to be too intellectual.

Although written as a vehicle for displaying the latest and greatest in Venetian 17th century theatrical pyrotechnics the constraints of Koerner Hall meant that the creative team of Brent Krysa, director, Michael Gianfrancesco, sets, Kimberly Purtell, lighting, and Erika Connor, costumes had to restrain themselves a bit.  They created a sort of classical Greece meets high Victorian aesthetic (Jove in a reddingcoat, Diana in a riding habit etc) that worked quite well when supplemented by imaginative lighting.  What they, and music director Adam Burnette, could not manage was an authentically 17th century Venetian sound.  The rather plummy acoustics of Koerner Hall plus the wide range of vocal types deployed rather undermined the kind of dry precision I’m used to hearing in this repertoire.

The performances were generally pretty good for a student production if, as noted above, not quite “of a piece”.  The pair of Maciej Bujnowicz as Jove and Danielle MacMillan as Diana were sufficiently physically well matched to pull off the personality swaps and both sang well enough.  Lucy Fitz Gibbon as Calisto had a lot to do and she acted and sang quite adequately but didn’t really project much individuality.  There were good comic turns from Justin Stolz as Pan (much the biggest voice on show and perhaps a bit out of style) and mezzo Ruth d’Souza as Satirino.  Maybe the star of the show was the Linfea of Jennifer Krabbe.  She got a lot out of the relatively minor role of the nerdy nymph who just wants to get laid (though preferably not by a goat).  The small band of authentic instruments; recorders, theorbo, giant lute etc were appropriate for the scale of the performance.

All in all, a worthy effort but not as much fun as last year’s French frivolity.

4 thoughts on “Cavalli’s La Calisto

  1. I remember seeing a production of this put on by undergraduates years ago – I was really impressed. I keep meaning to find a good recording of it but I haven’t gotten around to it yet. I think there’s one with Maria Bayo as Calisto that’s supposed to be good, but I may be misremembering that.

  2. Glad to hear La Calisto is being performed, but sorry to hear that broad humor was the prevailing tone chosen. Of course, Pan and the satyrs are lewd and rude, but I think there’s more subtle sensuality and emotional insight to be found in the flirtations and seductions of, well, everyone else.

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