Recently in Performances

Paer’s Leonora from Bampton Classical Opera

Musically and dramatically Ferdinando Paer’s Leonora and Beethoven’s Fidelio might be said to belong respectively to pre- and post-revolutionary ages.

Puccini's Il Trittico at Los Angeles Opera

A few seasons back, Los Angeles Opera invited William Friedkin to direct a double-bill of Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle and Puccini's Gianni Schicchi.

Oresteia at Miller Theatre

Iannis Xenakis once stood among the leading composers of the avant-garde, mentioned in a (long, drawn-out, amelodic, taped and fed back) breath with Babbitt, Berio, Boulez, Henze, Penderecki and Stockhausen: internationally famous among academics, ignored or deplored by the concert-going public.

Prom 61 — Verdi's Requiem

The Verdi Requiem is a regular feature at the Proms, having appeared every few years in past decades, usually to full houses.

Prom 51 — St. John Passion

Sunday 24th August at the Proms promised a day dedicated to the music of Bach, beginning with an organ recital in the afternoon by Simon Preston and ending with a late-night performance of the first three of the six Cello Suites by Chinese cellist Jian Wang by way of a palate-cleanser.

The Second to Last Night of the Proms – Beethoven’s 9th Symphony

The Last Night of the Proms is notorious because it’s an excuse for jingoistic excess.

Prom 70 — St François d’Assise

Even a concert performance of Messiaen’s St François d’Assise could hardly fail to be an event.

“Great Performances” remembers Pavarotti — What remains is the voice.

Luciano Pavoritti died on September 6, 2007. The all-too-ample figure and the fables associated with him are already retreating from memory.

Cecilia Bartoli at the Musikverein Wien

Every time an artist walks onto the performance stage, he or she attempts to give the performance of their lives, focusing on everything they have learned prior to, and giving of themselves in an unprecedented way.

Prom 68 — Russian Fairy Tales from Rimsky-Korsakov and Stravinsky

Kashchey is a gnarled old ogre who imprisons a beautiful young princess in his gloomy underworld. It’s classic psychodrama. Kashchey has supernatural powers, so how can the Princess be saved ?

The Coronation of Poppea

The startup of a new opera company is always cause for cheering; it is getting harder and harder (that is, more and more expensive) to do, especially in New York.

Prom 64 — Rattle conducts the Berlin Philharmonic in Messiaen’s Turangâlìla-symphonie

Because Turangâlìla is such a panorama, taking in Hollywood, Hindus and Peruvians, Wagner and Gurrelieder, it’s easy to assume it’s all surface Technicolor.

Shadowless in Amsterdam

The Netherlands Opera opened its season at the Muziektheater with a stunning new production of Die Frau ohne Schatten, setting the bar very high indeed for all that is to follow in the repertoire.

HANDEL: Belshazzar

Although performances of Handel’s more obscure large-scale works are relatively common in London, it is far less common that they are given in a venue as large and high-profile as the Royal Albert Hall, with a line-up of conductor and soloists that will attract a full house for a lengthy and static work on a hot summer evening.


Janáček’s music has already been well served in this year’s Proms in a memorable evening conducted by Boulez (reviewed on this site by Anne Ozorio).

A Muse for the Masses: Two Operatic Arenas in Review

With the revival of a 1876 Cleopatra by the local composer Lauro Rossi, a couple of world premieres in chamber opera and sacred oratorio (by Marco Tutino and Alberto Colla, respectively) and Verdi’s Attila canceled because of budget constraints, the 44th installment of the Macerata Festival will nevertheless be remembered as a bumper season, if one not particularly friendly to mainstream taste.

Wagnerian Score: Music 10; Drama 1

The venerable Wagner Festival in Bayreuth has never shied away from provocative productions.

Prom 34 — Puccini's Il Tabarro; Rachmaninov's Symphony no. 1

In a nod to the 150th anniversary of Puccini's birth, the Manchester-based BBC Philharmonic Orchestra visited the Proms with their chief conductor, Gianandrea Noseda, for a performance of the first opera of Il trittico.

Singers from South Africa and Sweden win Seattle Wagner Competition

A soprano originally from South Africa and a tenor from Sweden sang their way to top honors in the 2008 International Wagner Competition staged by the Seattle Opera on August 16 in Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, the company's handsome home.

MUSSORGSKY: Khovanshchina

At the curtain call for the first night of WNO’s new production of the infrequently performed Khovanshchina director David Pountney wore a simple Russian shirt.



Sally Matthews as Calisto [Photo © Bill Cooper]
28 Sep 2008

Cool Cavalli at Covent Garden — La Calisto

Planet Earth laid waste by forces beyond our control, hunger and drought squeezing humanity out of existence whilst those in charge look on, laughing, lusting and concerned only with their own power struggles – does this sound familiar?

Francesco Cavalli: La Calisto

Giove (Umberto Chiummo), Mercurio (Markus Werba), Calisto (Sally Matthews), Diana/Destinio/First Fury (Monica Bacelli), Endimione (Lawrence Zazzo), Linfea (Guy de Mey), Satirino/Nature/Second Fury (Dominique Visse), Pane (Ed Lyon), Silvano (Clive Bayley), Giunone/L'Eternità (Vèronique Gens). The Monteverdi Continuo Ensemble and Members of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Royal Opera House. David Alden (Director). Ivor Bolton (Conductor).

Above: Sally Matthews as Calisto

All photos © Bill Cooper courtesy of Royal Opera House


No, this is not Berg or Birtwistle, nor some contemporary operatic essay on The Crunch, but the cool, clever and calculating Mr Cavalli and his “La Calisto”, first shown to the discerning and politically savvy public of Venice in 1651. Without a doubt, this production at the Royal Opera (Cavalli’s somewhat overdue debut) is a sizzling success, and shows that Covent Garden could and should embrace the genre of early opera (not to mention “mainstream” baroque) more whole-heartedly in future. If opening night audiences were on the thin side, especially in the more expensive seats, this was no longer true come the second and third performances – word of mouth (and print) has seen to that.

Véronique Gens as Eternity [Photo © Bill Cooper]Véronique Gens as Eternity
One of only two operas that Cavalli wrote with a mythological storyline, it is perhaps the best known today and has been revived several times, most notably by Raymond Leppard back in the 60’s at Glyndebourne. But since then early opera – or rather its interpreters – have galloped on, sometimes like a riderless horse, plunging on and off the track, but always seeking to find a permanent home in the stable of current repertoire. One of its greatest advocates on the stage is David Alden, director of many Handelian successes but new to Covent Garden, and with this “Calisto”, first shown in Munich, he has cemented his reputation for melding old music with modern sensibilities.

First and foremost, Alden is a collaborator. Not for him the roughshod riding of some European directors over text and musical line; rather, he works closely with his musical director (here the redoubtable Ivor Bolton renewing his acquaintance from Munich with the Torrente edition of the original threadbare score) , his long-time scenic associates Paul Steinberg (striking, colourful sets) and Buki Shiff (shimmering cat-walk quality costumes) and his rock-solid cast of experienced period performers led by Sally Matthews in the title role. This Calisto is sexy, cynical, funny and sad – you leave the theatre feeling both uplifted and a little wiser.

Ovid’s recounting of the story of innocent nymph Calisto’s seduction, abandonment, and final metamorphosis from a bear into a heavenly star system is well known, but Cavalli and his librettist Faustini brought in a whole raft of supporting mythic characters – mainly comic - and a secondary plot involving the apparently chaste goddess Diana and her earthly lover Endimione. The music is a roller-coaster of almost-speech, scatter-gun recitative alive with wit, tender ariosi and dramatic, textually replete song, all supported by and entwined with the artistry of the OAE and Monteverdi Continuo Ensemble, led by a visibly-involved Bolton on the podium. This is opera as complete team-work, from early rehearsal through to performance, and it shows.

The vocalists were period-perfect, all real actor-singers. Sally Matthews has an individual, robust yet light-footed soprano that was in wonderful form as Calisto. Her sparkling top was matched with a warm and agile middle voice, occasionally let loose in the second half with real depth of tone and volume to reflect her anguish and incomprehension – a totally human sound in contrast to her god-like tormentors. Chief of these is the eternally-lascivious super-god, Giove (Jove) sung by the very experienced baroque baritone Umberto Chiummo who uses his warm tone and natural agility to great effect. His long-suffering wife, Giunone (Juno) is a smaller part but sung with panache and aplomb by Veronique Gens, whilst the supposedly “chaste” Diana of Monica Bacelli is sung with a scampering delight in both text and music, shading her voice intelligently to reflect her inner conflicts. The only other human character besides Calisto is the rather dopey shepherd Endimione, love-lorn and languishing on various hillsides, and he is sung accurately but rather four-squarely by Lawrence Zazzo who doesn’t quite capture the elegiac elegance of what is Cavalli’s loveliest long-lined music.

Dominique Visse as Satirino & Guy De Mey as Linfea [Photo © Bill Cooper]Dominique Visse as Satirino & Guy De Mey as Linfea

Unlike the later Handel, Cavalli’s characters have strength in depth right down to the supporting minor roles and it is here that this production really rises above the merely good and becomes excellent – not to mention downright salacious and sexy. Marcus Werba as Giove’s oily side-kick Mercurio, Guy de Mey in hilarious drag as the sex-mad overweight nymph Linfea, Ed Lyon as a stomping Pane, and probably the delight of the evening, the ever-green Dominique Visse hilarious and repulsive as the randy half-goat Satirino, his athleticism and mellifluous braying (do goats bray? they certainly trill) a remarkable tour-de-force that had us in stitches. A whole raft of actor/dancers filled out the scenes, each beautifully and intriguingly costumed as mythological creatures – the eye was filled in a way that was matched by the interwoven magic of the words and music. If you’re tired of grey and empty sets, dark spaces lit by bare bulbs, come and enjoy opera as it should be – Messrs Alden and Bolton and their team will see to that.

Sue Loder © 2008

“La Calisto” at ROH, Covent Garden, continues on 1st, 3rd and 10th October.

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):