Hipermestra: Francesco Cavalli (1658)

Cavalli: Hipermestra

★★★★½

(Glyndebourne, conducted by William Christie, 17 May 2017)

King Danao of Argos is troubled. His brother’s Egyptian troops have gathered on his border, forcing him to suggest a diplomatic match to avoid conflict. His fifty daughters will marry his brother’s fifty sons in a mass ceremony, cementing a peace treaty between the two nations. But Danao has given his daughters secret instructions. The Oracle at Delphi has warned him that one of his nephews will rob him of his life and kingdom. And so each of the fifty girls has been ordered to murder her husband on their wedding night. Each of them obeys. Except one: Hipermestra, who loves her new husband, her cousin Linceo, and urges him to escape. Her compassion will be rewarded by a tide of blood. In this thrilling premiere of an all-but-forgotten opera by Francesco Cavalli, Glyndebourne have updated an ancient story to a setting in the modern Middle East, giving it a punch that lingers long after the final curtain comes down.

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Rameau: Maître à danser

Rameau: Maître à danser

★★★★

(Les Arts Florissants at the Barbican, 18 November 2014)

It’s the Christmas holiday: a chance to escape from London and retreat to the countryside: time for family, log fires, games of charades, and hopefully a chance to work on my overdue posts. This seemed a good place to start. Conceived as a tribute to the French composer Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764) , this was my first introduction to Baroque ballet, which played such a crucial role in early operas and entertainments. It was a real feast for the eyes – and even more rewarding because I was able to see yet another Baroque legend live on stage: the doyen of French early music, William Christie himself.

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Giulio Cesare: George Frideric Handel (1724)

Handel: Giulio Cesare

(Glyndebourne, 2005, directed by Sir David McVicar, conducted by William Christie)

One thing’s for sure. Handel certainly didn’t imagine anything quite like this. With zeppelins hovering over the Alexandrian harbour in the final act and Bollywood-style dance routines thrown into the arias, this production is joyously exuberant and thoroughly addictive. It was the first time I’d watched or heard the opera and it was the perfect introduction: indeed, I ended up feeling quite jealous of the people who’d been able to see it in the flesh.

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L’Incoronazione di Poppea: Claudio Monteverdi (1643)

Monteverdi: L'Incoronazione di Poppea

★★★★

(Teatro Real, Madrid, with Les Arts Florissant and William Christie, 2010)

In the wake of the Barbican’s semi-staged Poppea, I decided to have another go at the DVD of this 2010 version from the Teatro Real in Madrid, to see how the two productions compared. It had completely bewildered me first time round. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I enjoyed it much more now that I had a better appreciation of the opera and its context. There are certain elements that I think the Barbican did better, but the Madrid version, with its stellar cast, certainly throws a long shadow. It’s staged, which is a big plus for me; but it completely overshadows the Barbican in one other important way as well.

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Stefano Landi: Il Sant’ Alessio (1632)

Landi: Sant' Alessio

(Théâtre de Caen, Les Arts Florissants with William Christie, 2007)

★★★★ ½

Over the weekend I treated myself to another opera DVD, this time one which transported me back to the very earliest days of the art form, to Rome in 1632. At this date the Counter-Reformation was in full swing and the Baroque was just coming into being. Gianlorenzo Bernini, who would become the supremo of 17th-century Rome, was 25 and had been asked to design the stage set for Stefano Landi’s new religious oratorio Sant’ Alessio. The production available on this DVD attempts to recreate the feel of that first performance and I admit I came to it with some trepidation. This all felt a very long way from the exuberance of the 18th century.

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