Thursday 17 April 2014

La Calisto in Highgate

Hampstead Garden Opera - La Calisto
Hampstead Garden Opera is performing Cavalli's 1651 opera La Calisto at Upstairs at the Gatehouse, the fringe theatre above the Gatehouse Pub in Highgate,  from April 25 to May 4, 2014. Sung in Anne Ridler's English translation, Cavalli's opera depicts  the perils and pains of love and mixes the comedy and tragedy with a strong admixture of farce and cross-dressing beloved of the original Venetian 17th century audience. 

Hampstead Garden Opera's production is directed by Joe Austin (who recently assisted David Alden in the revival of Peter Grimes at ENO), and we seem to be promised a version of La Calisto which takes the heroine into our bewildering modern world.  The opera will be conducted by Oliver-John Ruthven with accompaniment from the period instrument ensemble Musica Poetica London with an impressive cast of young singers, as the performances are double cast. 

It will be interesting to see what Austin makes of the opera's distinctive mix of comedy and tragedy as 17th century Venetian audiences were hardly PC and I note that the role of Linfea will be sung by a woman. Linfea is one of those roles in 17th century Venetian opera, normally sung by a men, which make fun of older women and much of the comedy comes from the cross dressing. (Harry Nicoll was brilliant in a similar role, Eryka, in the recent production of Cavalli's L'Ormindo at the Globe). Similarly, in the original 17th century performances the same singer sang Jove and Jove in Diana, singing the former in the bass register and the latter in the soprano register. I am not sure that it has been done like that in modern times. At Covent Garden most recently, the role was acted by the bass (in drag) whilst sung by a woman. Again I note that Austin is using a woman in the role. [Update: we are promised lots of cross dressing, and the director says that the production won't be tame!]

Janet Baker and Ileana Cotrubas appeared in the famous 1970's performances of La Calisto at Glyndebourne, conducted by Raymond Leppard (see an excerpt on YouTube). It was these performances which helped to put Cavalli back on the operatic map. Skip forward a few years and David Freeman's Opera Factory came up with a far more stripped back and irreverent production at the Royal Court Theatre including Mercury on roller skates (and I can testify it worked very well). David Alden at the Royal Opera House in 2008 produced something a good deal more large scale, stylish and glitzier. So it will be interesting to see what Austin and Hamstead Garden Opera make of Cavalli's beguiling and bewildering piece on a far smaller budget.

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