Cavalli: La Calisto

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Cavalli
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: La Calisto
PERFORMER: Maria Bayo, Marcello Lippi, Simon Keenlyside, Graham Pushee, Alessandra Mantovani, Sonia TheodoridouConcerto Vocale/René Jacobs
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 901515/17 DDD
Long a champion of Cavalli’s rarefied, but seductive oeuvre, the Belgian early-music specialist René Jacobs has now recorded this masterpiece, in a comprehensive, if unorthodox, three-act, almost three-hour version. It is a fresh, bright, though oddly humourless performance, finely played – the wind, rain and thunder machines as in keeping with the period (c1650) as the instruments. It is also very well sung. Maria Bayo’s determined nymph, Calisto, is impeccable, her purity of voice beautifully complemented by Alessandra Mantovani’s creamily toned Diana and Sonia Theodoridou’s soaring Juno. As Jupiter (a baritone who has to assume the falsetto guise of Diana), Marcello Lippi demonstrates a formidable range, even if he is not absolutely secure in the higher register, and he is well matched by a gloriously robust and Leporello-like Mercury from Simon Keenlyside, the most exciting baritone to have emerged for some time. Only Gilles Ragon in the pantomime-dame role of Linfea seems miscast – too earnest and masculine for the crotchety old nymph. And it’s a shame that the accomplished countertenor Dominique Visse is wasted on two trivial roles: the satyr and a fury.

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Raymond Leppard’s starry two-act account of the work (Decca) – a performance of transcendent beauty, with Janet Baker at her most sublime – is always going to seem an impossible act to follow, but this is a more-than-respectable (and more authentic) runner-up. Claire Wrathall