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Cavalli, Francesco: La Calisto (CD) Harmonia Mundi 1995

La Calisto (CD)


“The finest per­formance is without doubt Keenlyside’s sexy, mellifluously sung Mercurio…” Opera

Composer: Francesco Cavalli
Conductor: René Jacobs
Eternita: Maria Bayo
Natura: Reinaldo Macias
Destino: Monica Bacelli
Giove: Marcello Lippi
Mercurio: Simon Keenlyside
Calisto : nymphe de Diana: Maria Bayo
Endimione, un berger amoureux de Diana: Graham Pushee
Diana: Monica Bacelli
Linfea, nymphe de Diana: Christophe Homberger
Satirino, petit satire: Dominique Visse
Pane, dieu des bergers: Reinaldo Macias
Silvano, dieu des forêts: David Pittsinger
Giunone, Sonja Theodoridou
Le Furie: Claudia Schubert, Judith Vindevogel
Concerto Vocale
Choro di menti celesti – Dominique Visse, Monica Bacelli, Reinaldo Macias, David Pittsinger
Label: Harmonia mundi
Code: HMC90151517
Recorded: April 1993. Click here for details Mercurio: La Calisto, Cavalli
Released: Originally April 1995, re-issued 30 October 2006.
Number of discs: 3
ASIN: B00000079W
Award_CannesCannes Classical Award
Award_diaspason_dorDiaspason d’or
Award_Preis_Deutsche_SPreis der deutchen Schallplatternkritik

Calisto1 Calisto3

What the critics say

Hugh Canning, Opera magazine, June 1995

For those of us who remember the turned ­up noses of the early Italian Baroque scholars when Raymond Leppard introduced his lush realizations of Cavalli operas to Glyndebourne and elsewhere in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the appearance of this new recording of La Calisto – based on Herbert Wernicke’s beautiful 1993 production at the Theatre de la Monnaie in Brussels – will occasion wry amusement. For, in the quarter-century which separates Leppard’s. Decca recording based on the 1970 Glyndebourne production and Jacobs’s ‘realization’, the early music gurus, of whom Jacobs is indubitably one, have turned the hair-shirted 1970s notions of so-called authenticity on their head. The musi­cologically-correct editions of Cavilli and Monteverdi operas championed by Jane Glover, Alan Curtis, and Roger Norrington seem to have vanished from mainstream opera houses and the prevailing taste appears to abhor a consort of solo strings, sparingly reinforced with recorders and cornetti, with the dialogue accompanied by a small arsenal of keyboard, archlute and chitarrone continuo instruments.

That is not to say that the scholarly mini­milists are not right about the forces which probably accompanied the operas of Monteverdi, Cavalli and their contempo­raries in the highly competitive and com­mercial world of the 17th-century Venetian theatre. But it is fascinating that a musician so steeped in the Baroque as Jacobs can simply sweep scholarship aside and base his realization of La Calisto on the compara­tively luxurious orchestration of Cesti’s Il pomo d’oro, written for the court in Vienna. ‘Why,’ Jacobs asks rhetorically and disingenuously in his booklet essay, ‘should we not opt for the variety of the timbres of the court opera rather than the monochromatic colours of the Venetian popular opera, which … had to confine itself to economical productions in order to survive?’

Accordingly, Jacobs has enriched the orchestration with cornets, recorders and violas, and the distribution of the continuo to include organ, lirone and harp. The instrumental passages have been filled out with two viola parts, as in the more-or-Iess contemporaneous operas of Lully, given at Louis XlV’s magnificent, musically spend­thrift court. Any number of stylistic quib­bles can be levelled against Jacobs’s work: essentially what he has done is to orches­trate the score for modern ears and expec­tations with instruments known to have been in use at the time of composition. His ‘creative’ approach does not stop there either, for as in his realizations of Monteverdi’s Venetian operas, Ulisse and Poppea, he has interpolated musical inter­ludes and ritornellos by other contempo­rary composers, among them Cesti, Merula, Uccelini, Krieger and Schmelzer. Music in the 17th century travelled surprisingly fast and this patchwork process, we now know, was not beneath Monteverdi’s dignity, so the practice has an element of stylistic authority.

It also means, I think, that we can all go back to Leppard’s Glyndebourne set and no longer have to listen guiltily behind closed doors. Leppard certainly edited Calisto more drastically than Jacobs ­whose recording gives us 40 minutes more music – but his decision to flesh out the dual role of Diana/Giove-disguised-as-­Diana for Janet Baker with material from other CavalIi operas hardly seems as reprehensible as some said it was back in 1970. (It is amusing to note, incidentally, that New Grove Opera’s Calisto entry refers to Diana’s aria, ‘Ardo, sospiro e piango’, which Leppard filched for Baker from another Cavalli opera – so much for turned-up noses!)

Comparing the recorded performances, too, I fear it is a question of swings and roundabouts. For all Jacobs’s super-completeness and his now well-documented ‘dramatic’ approach to Venetian Baroque opera, his misses a lot of the comedy of the Leppard version, and the celebrated Glyndebourne cast contains more vocal personalities than the often quite bland Brussels ensemble. The Baroque stars of Jacobs’s Poppea, and Ulisse – Jennifer Larmore, Bernarda Fink, Christoph Prégardien and Guillemette Laurens – ­seem to have deserted him. The finest per­formance is without doubt Keenlyside’s sexy, mellifluously sung Mercurio, Giove’s Figaro-like side-kick who encourages his father’s exotic amorous exploits. Bayo is a delightful, light soprano Calisto but nowhere a match for the gorgeous Ileana Cotrubas chez Leppard, who made Calisto both a sex-pot and a figure of some pathos. Among the lesser roles, Banks’s Pane, though too youthful and innocent-sounding for the dirty old goat-man, shines out as a stylistic paragon. Visse sounds grotesque as the horny Satirino compared to Janet Hughes – whatever happened to her? – on the Leppard records. Ragon is a Linfea in the Cuénod tradition, though he does not relish the sexual innuendo as gleefully as the older Swiss tenor. Theodoridou is a commanding, if blousy, Giunone, and Mantovani a decent but not particularly charismatic Diana.

And here I come to the most controversial aspect of the new recording and the one which, for me, puts the new set completely out of court: Jacobs’s incomprehensible decision to cast Giove and Giove-as-Diana with the same singer, the baritone Marcello Lippi, singing in his falsetto register for his female disguise. In the theatre, this was a highly unconvincing ‘solution’ to a non-­problem, for Lippi as a pantomime-dame Diana could have fooled no one, not even the besotted Calisto, and certainly not Giove’s inquisitorial consort, Giunone. On record, the effect is, if anything, worse, for Lippi’s hooty) alto head voice does not resemble Mantovani’s slightly acid soprano. This is important because the anarchic sexuaI confusion of this uproari­ous opera hinges on the audience believing that Calisto believes she has been embraced by the virgin goddess Diana ­- the comedy of the real Diana’s outrage at these alleged ‘lesbian’ caresses is completely lost if the imposter is played by a burly bass in drag with a coarse countertenor voice. In the booklet, Jacobs asks: ‘Could the part of “Giove as Diana” have been sung by the real Diana? This is not only possible, but even probable, since the true and false Dianas never meet; but it is not very satisfactory from the theatrical point of view.’ Not very satisfactory? Anyone who saw Baker in the dual role at Glyndebourne – or Christine Botes for Opera Factory – will know that it is not only very satisfactory, but essential to the comic function of the disguise in the plot. Richard Strauss, defending his decision to cast Octavian with a soprano, knew that it was far funnier to have a woman playing a man disguised as woman (the Mariandl scenes) than a straightforward male-female travesty. lt is rather more than ‘probable’ that Cavalli did too, and the fact that he wrote Giove-as-Diana in the soprano clef suggests even more strongly that the Leppard option is only way to cast this opera.

If anyone wants conclusive evidence from the libretto, they need only read the crucial scene in which Giunone confronts her husband in disguise: ‘But what are you doing, chaste matron, in the company of thieves and pimps [Mercury]?’ she asks sar­castically, and she refers to Diana repea­tedly by her alternative names of Trivia, and Triforme – both of which have mythologi­cal connotations of deception and disguise. The whole joke here is that she knows it is Giove, the audience knows it is Giove and he knows he is Giove, but he looks and sounds like Diana. My case rests.

Claire Wrathall for BBC Music Magazine

Performance:  4_out_of_5_stars
Sound:  4_out_of_5_stars

Long a champion of Cavalli’s rarefied, but seductive oeuvre, the Belgian early-music specialist René Jacobs has now recorded this masterpiece, in a comprehensive, if unorthodox, three-act, almost three-hour version. It is a fresh, bright, though oddly humourless performance, finely played – the wind, rain and thunder machines as in keeping with the period (c1650) as the instruments. It is also very well sung. Maria Bayo’s determined nymph, Calisto, is impeccable, her purity of voice beautifully complemented by Alessandra Mantovani’s creamily toned Diana and Sonia Theodoridou’s soaring Juno. As Jupiter (a baritone who has to assume the falsetto guise of Diana), Marcello Lippi demonstrates a formidable range, even if he is not absolutely secure in the higher register, and he is well matched by a gloriously robust and Leporello-like Mercury from Simon Keenlyside, the most exciting baritone to have emerged for some time. Only Gilles Ragon in the pantomime-dame role of Linfea seems miscast – too earnest and masculine for the crotchety old nymph. And it’s a shame that the accomplished countertenor Dominique Visse is wasted on two trivial roles: the satyr and a fury.

Robert Levine for classicstoday, 14 June 2003


When this was first released in 1995, I thought it was the finest recording of a Baroque opera I’d ever heard. Since then there have been many others as good, but this one remains positively superb, making the case for an otherwise unknown work, bringing to the fore all of its colors, wit, bawdiness, and complications. Following it with the texts you realize what a fine dramatist the librettist was and how superbly Cavalli sets his words; indeed, this work, premiered in 1651-52, need not take a back seat to Monteverdi’s extant operas. (He was one of Monteverdi’s disciples.) There are more overt aria types than in Monteverdi, but still plenty of that arioso-into-aria style that is so engaging. Furthermore, Cavalli’s tunes are almost catchy. It’s a gem, and this performance is just about perfect.

There’s plenty of gender-bending and lots of overt sexual references in this opera. The plot concerns Jove’s love for Calisto, who is a follower of Diana, and the former’s attempt to seduce Calisto while disguised as the latter, abetted by Mercury. Juno is jealous; Endymion also loves Diana, and so on. Jove-as-Diana manages to seduce Calisto sonically, by singing in falsetto – and in Marcello Lippi we have a bass with a rich sound worthy of the grandest and horniest of gods, but one whose falsetto is developed and expressive enough to convince Calisto while also entertaining us. Calisto is sung by Maria Bayo, and she hasn’t impressed so much since this recording was released; her pure, vibrato-free sound is right on the money and she gets inside the innocent but seducible character with great ingenuity.

Countertenor Graham Pushee is a lovesick Endymion who makes us care for this sincere if misdirected character; Alessandra Mantovani’s Juno is wildly self-righteous and mellifluous; tenor Barry Banks makes two cameo appearances – one in the prologue and the other as Pan–and is superb as both; and the always-far-out Dominique Visse juices up the proceedings in two roles as well. Simon Keenlyside’s Mercury is wise and snide. Since this recording was made he has gone on to become world-famous, and deservedly so. René Jacobs and his band turn this into a great, sharp drama, beautiful to listen to and endlessly appealing. Don’t miss it – it’s a great work and this is a great performance.

Review by Pierre Marc Bellemare, published in French in Vol. 9 No. 4 of La Scena Musicale. You can also listen to extracts of the CD at this site.

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