Cavalli’s Il Giasone is a bit of a rarity but perhaps, like the rest of his opus, it’s getting more attention than it used to. The latest video recording of it was made at the Grand Theâte Genève in 2017. There’s a summary of the rather convoluted plot in my review of an earlier version from Vlaamse Opera. Oddly in this version Isifile’s final aria omits the weird section about her cold dead breasts.
Cavalli’s middle period operas are largely about sending up the pretentions of the gods, kings and heroes who made up the usual subject matter of the court operas of the period. He, of course, was writing for the commercial theatre in Venice rather than for an aristocratic patron. Director Serena Sinigaglia appears to have taken this as a starting point and then layered on a bit of a send up of theatrical practices of the time. Part of the fun of the 17th century theatre was the “marvellous” stage effects. Here the artifice is on display. For example, during the storm scene the Argo is carried around on a pole carried by two extras and the wind machine is in full view. Other than that it’s all fairly straightforwardly set in the early 20th century more or less. The OTT humour elements are hammed up and it’s generally fairly raunchy. I’d say it’s a pretty fair representation of the Venetian Theatre of the time; 1/3 high art, 2/3 Benny Hill.
It’s all pretty well sung and acted. All the principals are very solid singers. Valer Sabadus is the right kind of counter tenor for Giasone. There’s a pleasing conrast between the bright soprano Isifuile of the very photogenic Kristina Mkhitaryan and the darker toned mezzo medea of Kristina Hammerström. Willard White brings a touch of distinction to Oreste (doubling as Giove). Dominique Visse, en travesti, plays the past it but still randy nurse (a stock character of the Venetian theatre) with suitably OTT flair. The rest of the cast is fine and the chorus; a particularly evil looking band of Argonauts and the over sexed ladies of Isifile’s court, is very good. The pit band is the twenty three strong Capella Meditterranea directed by Leonardo García Alarcón. They have the appropriate sound for the period.
The production for disk is kind of low budget. There’s no Blu-ray and the only sound option is Dolby encoded stereo. I think video director Isabelle Soulard does a decent job of filming, especially given the low lighting levels much of the time. It helps that the action is mostly concentrated in a fairly small area. That said this is nobody’s idea of a demonstration disk. Picture and sound are adequate but no more. There are no extras on the disk. The booklet contains a synopsis and quite a good essay on Cavalli. Subtitle options are French, English and German.
Il Giasone is worth seeing if you are not familiar with it. It probably gives a better sense of what the Venetian Theatre was about than any of Monteverdi’s works (though Poppea comes close). Both this recording and the earlier Belgian one present it well. The latter has the advantage of being available on Blu-ray and having generally better technical values.