Zefiro Torna: Les Talens Lyriques

Botticelli: The Birth of Venus

(St John’s Smith Square, 7 June 2017)

As part of their celebrations for the 450th anniversary of Monteverdi’s birth, the French ensemble Les Talens Lyriques were on stage in London for one night only, for a selection of madrigals and operatic scenes written by the great composer. I’d never seen them perform live, although I have many of their recordings, and was eager to see them at last under the baton of Christophe Rousset. The recital was made even more irresistible by the singers: two tenors whom I like very much: the Swiss Emiliano Gonzalez Toro, whom I’ve seen in several other roles, and the Swedish haute contre Anders J. Dahlin, who sings Dario in my much-loved recording of Vivaldi’s Incoronazione di Dario. My expectations were high and yet, remarkably, they were exceeded by this elegant concert which blended heartfelt grace with dramatic verve.

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Eliogabalo: Francesco Cavalli (1667)

Cavalli: Eliogabalo

★★★★

(Opéra de Paris at Palais Garnier, 25 September 2016)

Please forgive the recent silence. This last week was extremely busy which, on one hand, means there was no time to write new posts, but on the other means that you have a glut of them coming up. First off is the most glamorous and exciting event: my trip to the Paris Opéra to see their new production of Cavalli’s Eliogabalo. This was the result of a last-minute (and very expensive) fit of spontaneity, and luckily it turned out that Eliogabalo was just my cup of tea. Focused on a lascivious, unpredictable ruler with a penchant for stealing other people’s girlfriends, it sounds at first very much like Xerxes.

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Xerse: Francesco Cavalli (1654)

Cavalli: Xerse

★★★★★

(Theater an der Wien, 18 October 2015)

Before Handel and before Bononcini there was Cavalli. This first take on the Xerxes story doesn’t enjoy anywhere near as much fame as its younger cousin, and to my knowledge has only been recorded once, in 1985, with the title role set for countertenor and sung by René Jacobs. It’s high time for another recording and, if Emmanuelle Haïm and her excellent cast could have their arms twisted to do it, we’d be in for a treat.

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L’Incoronazione di Poppea: Claudio Monteverdi (1643)

Poppea Norway (7)

★★

(Norwegian National Opera 2010, conducted by Alessandro De Marchi)

I’d been itching to see this production of Poppea for some time, ever since stumbling across some clips of Tim Mead’s E pur io torno on YouTube. The clips showed a bare, stripped-back set and a very striking use of colour, and the cast list looked promising. So on Saturday night, after a rather draining couple of days, I settled down to lose myself in one of my favourite operas. As you’ll be able to deduce from the rating, it wasn’t quite the treat it was meant to be.

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Elena: Francesco Cavalli (1659)

Cavalli: Elena

(Aix-en-Provence, 2013, with Leonardo García Alarcón and Cappella Mediterranea)

How do I begin to describe Elena? It definitely isn’t your average opera. Imagine a Baroque cross-dressing operatic romantic comedy, with importunate lovers (plenty), pirates (sort of) and bears (briefly). How can you refuse something so gloriously over-the-top? Performed with gusto by a brilliant young cast, many of whom have since made names for themselves all over Europe, this charming, rambunctious, occasionally downright daft production from the Aix Festival is in a genre all by itself.

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