Giasone: Francesco Cavalli (1649)

Cavalli: Giasone

★★★½

(Opéra Royal de Versailles, 9 March 2018)

The dauntless Argonauts came to the shores of Colchis in search of the Golden Fleece, but their heroism has been put on hold. For the last year they’ve been kept kicking their heels while their leader, Jason, diverts himself with a mysterious woman. He might be thoroughly enjoying himself but, as his fellow Argonaut Hercules tells him, it’s time to move on. But Jason’s romantic adventures prove harder to shake off than he anticipates, when it transpires that his secret lover is none other than Medea, Queen of Colchis. To make matters worse, his fiancee Hypsipyle, Queen of Lemnos, has grown tired of waiting for him and is coming to fetch him home. Did I mention that Jason has also given each woman twin sons? Amidst the glitz and glitter of Versailles’s Opéra Royal, everything was about to hit the fan in a very, very Baroque fashion.

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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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L’Incoronazione di Poppea: Claudio Monteverdi (1643)

Poppea: Vienna

★★★★

(Theater an der Wien, Vienna, 19 October 2015)

Before seeing Poppea, I’d been warned it was ‘hardcore Regietheater’, a phrase which would normally provoke serious qualms. But even I know better than to go to a Claus Guth production expecting togas and sandals. Despite my conservative tastes I can appreciate regie if it’s done well. It depends whether the director’s taken time to think about the story, or whether he’s simply thrown in sharks, parrots or a live bull for the sake of it. Guth certainly fell into the first category. His production isn’t traditional, but it’s based on an intelligent reading of the story. It toys with the audience’s expectations and makes you think afresh about the dynamics between the characters. This Poppea is good regie: deceptively playful, with a heart of darkness.

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Catone in Utica: Leonardo Vinci (1728)

Piranesi: The Via Appia

★★★★½

(Il Pomo d’Oro, directed by Riccardo Minasi)

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the CD is here. I meant to wait until Versailles before posting about Catone, but I’ve changed my mind and will write separately about the recording and the performance. There are two main reasons for that. First, Valer Sabadus announced last week that he won’t be singing either at the Opera Royal or Wiesbaden: illness prevents his rehearsing. Of course I’ll miss him, but his replacement is Ray Chenez, who sounds rather exciting on the basis of YouTube clips. I’m always happy to discover a new voice.

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Xerxes: George Frideric Handel (1738)

Handel: Xerxes

½

(Oper am Rhein, Düsseldorf, 2 May 2015)

When my friends joined me at the interval of Oper am Rhein’s Xerxes, they found me clutching my prosecco glass with a slightly wild look in my eyes. “I haven’t the faintest idea what’s going on!” I whimpered. Since I’d spent three hours watching another production of Xerxes only two days beforehand, this might sound surprising; but Stefan Herheim’s interpretation of Handel’s opera is an entirely different beast from Hampstead Garden Opera’s offering. Anarchic, exuberant and splendidly insane, this was more Carry On than Covent Garden.

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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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Artaserse: Leonardo Vinci (1730)

Vinci: Artaserse

★★★★★

(with I Barocchisti [CD] and Concerto Köln [DVD], directed by Diego Fasolis, 2012)

Before we start, I should emphasise: the composer is not the artist Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), but a completely different person, the Neapolitan Leonardo Vinci (1690-1730). I must also add a disclaimer. As you may remember, I know nothing about the technicalities of music. In this field I am, more than ever, merely an enthusiastic amateur. That’s especially the case in Baroque music, which must be one of the most technically complex and elaborate areas of classical music. However, as I’ve said before, I’m fascinated by the phenomenon of the castrati and, as such, this particular opera (and performance) was one I couldn’t resist.

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