Cavalli’s Elena

Cavalli is a rather neglected composer. Something like thirty of his operas exist but few are ever performed and only one, La Calisto, appears at all frequently. It’s hard to see why. He was Monteverdi’s pupil and a worthy successor whose work was decidedly popular in his lifetime. It’s even harder to see why a work like Elena could have been ignored for 350 years before being revived at the Aix en Provence Festival in 2013. It’s really got the same things going for it as Il coronazione di Poppea. There’s sex, homoeroticism, mythology, cross dressing, a weird (Shakespearean?) mix of the serious and the comic and some really lovely music. The only downside I can see is a rather convoluted plot and the fact that one of the leading roles was written for a high castrato.

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Not a mezzo in sight

Leonardo Vinci’s Artaserse is in many ways it’s a classic opera seria. The good guy roles are written for castrati but the baddies here too go to high voices; a castrato and a tenor.  But what sets this apart is that it was written for Rome where it premiered in 1730.  At that time women were not allowed on stage in the Papal States so the two female roles were played by castrati en travesti.  In recreating it in 2012, l’opéra national de Lorraine chose to cast all five castrati roles with countertenors, producing a cast like nothing I’ve ever seen or heard.

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