|Emily Hughes and Adria Caffaro (photo by Brian Long)|
|Joyce Yin (photo by Brian Long)|
Last night we attended the final performance of Francesco Cavalli's l651 opera La Calisto, presented by Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble and directed most imaginatively by Brittany Goodwin, one of New York's most gifted young directors. We were amazed by the endurance of so many aspects of love that have remained unchanged in nearly four centuries.
The playing area was filled with nymphs and satyrs, gods and goddesses--strange figures to be sure; and yet their concerns are our concerns today. The social media generation did not invent unfulfilled romantic longing, sexual dalliances overcoming chaste intentions, rejection, cross-dressing, lesbian love, romantic deception, nor vengeful wives. There was something particularly thrilling about seeing ourselves onstage in a work dating back nearly four centuries. Not just thrilling but moving as well. Love and sex will always be with us until the robots take over!
It is difficult to believe that this marvelous work lay dormant until 1970. How fortunate we are that it was discovered and revived. It lets us in on what the mid 17th c. Venetians expected from a rather new popular art form. Cavalli was there at the birth of opera.
Impresario/librettist Giovanni Faustini had created many operas with Cavalli; this one was their penultimate production. The story was derived from Ovid's Metamorphosis and recounts the story of Jove pretending to be the goddess Diana in order to seduce the beautiful chaste Calisto. The tale is padded out with the love story between the real Diana and the shepherd Endimione. In every case, chastity falls under the weight of sexual desire.
The wily Mercurio (fine tenor Brady DelVecchio) convinces Giove (authoritative baritone Mason Jarboe) that persuasion is no match for deception when trying to seduce a woman. Their duet was musically gorgeous and also quite humorous.
In the title role, lovely soprano Emily Hughes sang about wanting to lead a chaste life, devoted to the goddess Diana. Giove transforms himself into Diana (beautifully sung by mezzo-soprano Adria Caffaro) and successfully seduces her. The two women had a tender duet before entering a cave to exchange chaste kisses (which led to much more).
When the real Diana appears her voice and gestures are very different and there is no doubt that she is the real thing. When Calisto refers to their makeout session, Diana is outraged by the inference and tosses Calisto out of the virginal sisterhood.
Ms. Caffaro successfully used vocal coloration and altered her gestures and body movements so successfully that, although Calisto was fooled, we in the audience were not.
Diana, on her part, is secretly in love with the shepherd Endimione (counter-tenor Padraic Costello) who expresses his longing for her in the most exquisite aria.
The superb soprano Joyce Yin (Co-Founder of Cantanti Projects) provided comic relief in her portrayal of Linfea, one of Diana's followers, who longs for romance. In spite of her desperation, there is no way Linfea is going to settle for the importuning of Satirino (the fine mezzo-soprano Shawn Palmer, sporting a blue wig, goat horns and hooves), even though he tells her that he is young but his tail is still growing! He is a member of the clutch of satyrs, of which the leader is the god Pane, portrayed by counter-tenor Raymond Storms. As Silvano, one of the satyrs, bass-baritone Angky Budiardjono turned in a fine and physical performance with secure vocalism.
Act II brought on new delights as Giunone, the jealous wife of Giove, appears to expose her husband's infidelity. Mezzo-soprano Sophie Delphis gave her all to the revenge aria in which she instructs women not to put up with philandering husbands but rather to take revenge. Her particular revenge is to transform Calisto into a bear. Giove cannot undo this curse but finds his beloved Calisto a place in the firmament as the constellation Ursa Major, a condition foretold in the Prologue.
Mezzo-soprano Allison Gish portrayed La Natura in the Prologue, with soprano Elyse Kakacek taking the role of L'Eternita and mezzo-soprano Jingye Xu appearing as Il Destino who convinces the other two that Calisto deserves her place in the heavens. The women also appeared as The Furies.
Cavalli's music is very singable and a small chamber orchestra, such as was heard in its own time, did full justice to Cavalli's writing, led by the renowned Early Music specialist Charles Weaver who played theorbo, lute and Baroque guitar. The chamber orchestra also included two violins, a cello, harpsichord and a second theorbo.
Costume Designer Claire Townsend did much with little, relying on creativity rather than a huge budget. The costumes were fanciful and fun. A fur coat with ears on the hood served as a bear costume. Most magnificent of all was Giunone's black and white costume with elaborate red tulle headdress which reminded us of the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland.
Satyrs had fur on their boots along with horns and tails. The Furies had big hoop skirts draped with black chiffon. Giove wore a suit and tie with fabric design of white clouds on blue background. Mercurio wore a pink suit with little golden wings on the heels of his shoes. Calisto's final costume was embellished with stars.
Diana wore a simple white gown whilst her followers wore funky garments with white knee-high stockings.
The set design by You-Shin Chen was simple, utilizing the same ramp seen in The Cunning Little Vixen. White columns were created with fabric hanging from the ceiling which could also be gathered and hoisted.
This was another fine entry in Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble's Summer Festival. There was a lot of wisdom in their choices of material--lesser known works that flowered under fine direction and casting. The emerging artists selected for this intense program of mentorship are to be applauded for their commitment to the art.
(c) meche kroop
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