Cavalli: LaCalisto; Monteverdi: L’Orfeo

COMPOSERS: Cavalli / Monteverdi
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
PERFORMER: María Bayo, Marcello Lippi;Concerto Vocale/René Jacobs; Simon Keenlyside, Juanita Lascarro;Concerto Vocale/René Jacobs


Here we have two compelling performances of early operas produced at the Theatre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels in the 1990s.

René Jacobs has already issued CD versions of both of them, with slightly different casts. In both works, however, the staging is absolutely integral to the conception of the works and it is an added bonus that the extra elements on the DVDs not only give us the usual interviews, but reveal the mechanisms of the scenery, the musical considerations, and the meticulous planning that went towards realising those visions.

Cavalli’s La Calisto is dominated by the extraordinary presence of María Bayo in the title role, whose every phrase is full of musical and emotional import. The shepherd Endymion also has music of endless subtlety, skilfully projected by Graham Pushee, and Marcello Lippi as Jove sings not only in his baritone range but also in falsetto for long stretches when disguised as Diana.

This last trick was probably not required in the 17th century since the female singing Diana (here played by an imperious and sexy Louise Winter) probably did the Jove-in-disguise bits as well. The camera work is basic but effective, and the scenery colourful and inviting.

Since the story is from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the decision by Herbert Wernicke to present the characters as mere off-shoots of the commedia dell’arte has perhaps diminished them somewhat – Jove is little more than a braggart captain, Endymion is Pulcinella, and the Satyr for some reason appears as Harlequin.

La Calisto is a premiere DVD but Monteverdi’s Orfeo has many rivals and needs special reasons for us to see it again. One is the tremendous vocal cast – especially the lithe and mercurial Orfeo (Simon Keenlyside), the searingly affecting Messenger (Graciela Oddone) and sonorous Simon Gérmon as Caronte. Also, a unique feature of this production is the addition of ‘abstract’ choreography by Trisha Brown and her company of dancers from New York.

There are some extraordinarily powerful episodes of intricate movement, such as those surrounding the two arias in Act II (‘Ecco pur’ and ‘Vi ricordi’). Elsewhere, as in the Messenger scene, the gestures seem distracting and hard not to read as variations on ‘I’m a little teapot’.


Sometimes too the camera work appears somewhat inept. René Jacobs, though, always controls the music exquisitely. This is a production that might well grow in reputation.