Cavalli – La Calisto / Bayo, Lippi, Pushee et al. / Theatre Royal de la Monnaie, Brussels 1996 (2)

(Previous section here.)

I have heard this opera only once or twice before, and there aren’t any specific sections of it that I found completely gripping – just little things, now and then. There’s a little section with flautinos in the beginning of Act I that manages to be sweet and not ear-splitting, and some charming dance music here and there. ‘Pretty’ was the word I kept writing down while I was listening to it. Maria Bayo, for example, consistently sounds very pretty, and the singing is as expressive as I suspect it gets for this role. Here’s Calisto’s Act III aria in which she remembers her tender moments with “Diana” (a.k.a Zeus):

This little section is fairly representative as far as tone goes, too. The little Harlequin figure in the background is Satirino, performed by the nimble Dominique Visse, who in addition to scampering about like the seventeenth-century equivalent of a pixie on meth has some moments of very pretty sound. This is probably a good point at which to state that if countertenors are not your bag, you might want to avoid this production, because it’s positively crawling with them. Even the lower voices get in on the falsetto action. When Zeus (Marcello Lippi) is pretending to be Diana, the part has him also trying to sound approximately like Diana – and Lippi carries this off very well, I thought.

But in terms of countertenor singing, I was most impressed by Graham Pushee as Diana’s lover Endymion. (Their story is one of several secondary narratives in this opera.) Their last section, where they resolve that he will be content to worship her from afar, is one of the nicest of the whole performance. If you watch it, though, you might wonder why Endymion is dressed as the commedia dell’arte character Pierrot. At least, I think he is. It’s a white floppy costume with a white mask. I didn’t watch the ‘making of’ documentary because I usually find those things really irritating – have you ever noticed that with a few exceptions, most singers are not actually all that interesting when they talk about music? But anyhow, the following is just an unsubstantiated guess which might be proven wrong by the documentary that I didn’t watch.

It’s a Pierrot costume – and Pierrot is the commedia dell’arte character who is both naive and, at least according to Wikipedia where I had to go to look this up because I’m a historian of early America and not a goddamned pantomime expert, both “soulful” and “sensitive.” He was also associated with the figure of the artist. And in the myth(s) that this story is based on, Endymion is either a shepherd or an astronomer. So the senstive/artist/astronomer/clown thing makes a certain loose type of sense. Particularly given that one of the first things we see on the stage is a telescope – and it appears again at the end. Near the end, too, a mathematical grid has been superimposed on the backdrop of illustrations of constellations. Myths are a way of making nature intelligible and bringing far away things close – but so are telescopes. Is the idea that the two things are not so different after all? This opera is light enough that I’m not sure anything deep is actually being communicated, but as I said, it all sort of hangs together in a general kind of way and the music is pretty.

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