Calisto: Francesco Cavalli (1651)

Lucy Crowe

★★★★

(La Nuova Musica at Wigmore Hall, 28 November 2016)

Calistos are like London buses: you wait for months and then two come along at once. Mere weeks after English Touring Opera’s vivacious production, David Bates and La Nuova Musica presented their own version of Cavalli’s tale of lust, disguise and confusion. Conceived as a semi-staged performance, to make maximum use of the Wigmore’s limited space, this Calisto boasted a cast to die for and delivered some great voices; yet it didn’t eclipse ETO quite as thoroughly as I’d expected.

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Calisto: Francesco Cavalli (1651)

Cavalli: Calisto

★★★★

(English Touring Opera at the Hackney Empire, 14 October 2016)

On Friday night it was time for the second opera in ETO’s autumn Baroque trilogy (the first was their Battle of Britain Xerxes). This time we were going back to the mid-17th century for Cavalli’s Calisto, which on the surface is an exuberant pantomime in song about gods behaving badly in the forests of Arcadia. Beneath the raunchiness, however, this opera has a surprisingly radical message. In a fascinating pre-show talk, the director and conductor Tim Nelson explored allusions to Galileo and the defeat of faith by reason, which – if this isn’t just the result of academic over-reading – would make the apparently frothy Calisto a subversive commentary on the biggest controversy of the day.

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Semele: George Frideric Handel (1744)

Handel: Semele

★★★½

(Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, 10 March 2015)

Let the London Handel Festival commence! Things got underway in suitably regal style at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, with a tale of divine seduction and boundless ambition that bore a moralistic coda: be careful what you wish for.

Nature to each allots his proper sphere, But that forsaken,
we like meteors err: 
Toss’d through the void, by some rude
shock we’re broke, 
And all our boasted fire is lost in smoke.

(Chorus: Act 3, Scene 7)

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