Cavalli’s Ercole Amante is an oddity. It was intended as a wedding present from Cardinal Mazarin to Louis XIV but got hijacked by Lully who inserted a bunch of ballets for the king to dance stretching out the piece to something like six hours. It wasn’t a great success. It’s also a very odd story for a piece intended for a royal patron as I explained in reviewing an earlier recording. It’s also in Italian which may make the only French court work to be performed in that language.
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 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.
Cavalli’s Giasone is a bit of a peculiar piece, It’s based on parts of the Jason/Medea/Golden Fleece story but it’s at heart a comedy. It was wildly popular in the 17th century then pretty much lapsed into obscurity though there is one recording available on DVD. It provides quite a lot of opportunity for sight gags and spectacle so one had to wonder how well it would play in a concert version as presented by the Toronto Consort last night. Actually they did quite well with it but let’s take a step back to talk about the piece for a minute. Continue reading →
There’s quite a lot happening before the COC season kicks off again with the opening of Handel’s Hercules on April 5th. Here are some of the highlights including several rarities.
On March 22nd at 7:30pm and 23rd at 3pm the Cantemus Singers are putting on a concert performance of Purcell’s The Fairie Queene at the Church of the Holy Trinity. The cast includes Iris Krizmanic, soprano (Juno); Maria Soulis, soprano (Mopsa); and Michael Pius Taylor, tenor (Phoebus). Tickets are $20; $15(sr/st); $10(child).
Oddly enough, given the post previous to this, Reiner Moritz’s essay in the booklet accompanying this recording of Cavalli’s La Didone brings up the Harnoncourt/Ponelle Monteverdi recordings as a precursor to what he sees as Bill Christie’s similar championing of Cavalli. I guess the big difference is that only three of Monteverdi’s operas survive while we have 27 of Cavalli’s. I think he may have a point though. It seems to me that 17th century Italian opera works on an aesthetic which is very in tune with today. The relative spareness and clarity of the music seems closer to Britten than to Verdi and the cynicism and explicit sexuality of the libretti closer to Anna Nicole than La Bohème.
Cavalli’s Il Giasone isn’t a work one sees performed often. It’s a peculiar beast. It’s about Jason and Medea and the Golden Fleece but has few of the elements of the version of the story that everone knows and everybody from Charpentier to Reimann has made into an opera. In Cavalli’s version Giasone has got Isifile, a princess of Lemnos, pregnant with twins and then gone off after the Golden Fleece. In Colchis he spends his time in bed with a mysterious local beauty, much to the disgust of Ercole who thinks he’s gone soft. Eventually Giasone works out that his squeeze is Medea and with her help defeats some monsters and grabs the fleece.
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.