Cavalli: Ercole Amante

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Cavalli
LABELS: Opus Arte
PERFORMER: Luca Pisaroni, Veronica Cangemi, Jeremy Ovenden, Anna Maria Panzarella, Anna Bonitatibus, Marlin Miller; Concerto Köln; DNO Chorus/Ivor Bolton dir. David Alden (DNO, 2009)
CATALOGUE NO: OA 1020 D

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Cavalli’s spectacular work was commissioned for the wedding of Louis XIV to Maria Theresa of Spain in 1660. But the theatre was unfinished, and when the opera was eventually performed it was sabotaged by the talkative French audience and (probably) the antics of the resident composer Lully.

The story is odd for a wedding. Hercules spends much of his time attempting to banish his wife (Deianira) and kill his son (Hyllo), so that he can marry his prospective daughter-in-law (Iole). Eventually Juno, goddess of marriage, reconciles husband and wife, but it seems too little too late.

None of this should put you off. This is a ravishing production in every department – scenery, stage effects, costumes, dancing, acting and music. Luca Pisaroni is an assured and vigorous Hercules – aided by action-man plastic muscles – but it is Cavalli’s women who steal the show.

Anna Bonitatibus as Juno and Anna Maria Panzarella as Deianira, through their well-centred voices, their sensitivity to underlying harmonies and their stage presence, bypass the pantomimic surface and tap into the depths of this music.

Johannette Zomer (as the Moon goddess Cynthia) and Marlin Miller (as Deianira’s servant Licco) are also outstanding. The young lovers Hyllo and Iole, are touching but not always in tune.

Everything is nicely filmed, and the extras include extended interviews with two locally-based cast members (Pisaroni and Zomer), plus a round up of views from others in the production – except, oddly and annoyingly, the wonderful instrumentalists.

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Even so, this is an enterprising, entertaining and enlightening offering from Amsterdam. Anthony Pryer