Cavalli: La Didone

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LABELS: Dynamic
WORKS: La Didone
PERFORMER: Claron McFadden, Magnus Staveland, Jordi Domènech, Manuela Custer, Marina De Liso, Donatella Lombardi, Isabel Álvarez, Antonio Lozano, Gian Luca Zoccatelli, Filippo Morace, Maria Grazia Schiavo, Roberto Abbondanza; Orchestra Europa Galante/Fabio Biondi

Forty years have elapsed since Glyndebourne’s production of Cavalli’s La Calisto. Recent stagings of Eliogabalo and Giasone have revealed a distinctive dramatic voice. More than 27 of his operas survive. But for many Baroque enthusiasts, CDs remain the sole point of access to music that rivals that of Monteverdi in its sensuality, variety and vigour. Written for Venice in 1641, then radically revised for Naples, La Didone opens in ruined Troy, as Aeneas, his wife and their son flee for Carthage. The libretto was tailored to ‘modern opinions’, and quickly parts company with Virgil, offering a happy ending and a Poppea-like cast of cynical servants as observers.
Fabio Biondi’s live recording of the 1650 Naples edition is an edge-of-your-seat affair, from the clattering concitato strings of the Trojan warriors to the imperial heft of Juno’s sackbutts and the sultry chromatics of Dido’s laments. (Cavalli is more generous to his heroine than Purcell.) It pays to turn a deaf ear to the shuffling on stage. There are elegant passacaglias and dandified canzonas, while the silken bed of harp, lirone and theorbo continuo is rudely invaded by the brutal glare of a regal organ.
Vocally, there is less consistency. Tenor Magnus Staveland’s macho Aeneas may be more attractive than countertenor Jordi Domènech’s gusty Iarbas, but neither has the suavity of soprano Claron McFadden’s Dido. She, in turn, is triply outshone by mezzo-soprano Manuela Custer: a thrilling Cassandra, poised Juno and sly, witty Damigella. Anna Picard