Home | Reviews | Articles | Festivals | Competitions | Other | Contact Us

Cavalli La Calisto

(new edition by Peter Foster)

La Natura Stuart Haycock
Eternitil/Furia 1 Kristin Darragh
Il Destino/Furia 2 Miranda Makryniotis
Giove Callum Thorpe
Mercurio Gerard Collett
Calisto Hei Mi Lee
Diana/Giove-in-Diana Charlotte Stephenson
Linfea Caroline MacPhie
Endimione Eleanor Greenwood
II Satirino Roderick Morris
Pane Xing Wa Hao
Silvano Ross Mcinroy
Giunone Robyn Kirk

Royal Academy Opera and Academy Baroque Orchestra/Anthony Legge
Directed by John Ramster
Sir Jack Lyons Theatre, RAM, Friday 2nd May 2007

Premiered in Venice 1651 and not revived until 1970 at Glyndebourne, with lush orchestration by Raymond Leppard and a starrycast headed by Janet Baker (I was there - the composer's name was new to us then), Cavalli's comic Arcadian farrago made for a splendid student opera at RAM.

It was given in Peter Foster's thoroughly researched new edition based on a surviving score of the continuo part, with reduced instrumental forces brought up from the pit so that we could watch them play. It was a particular pleasure to have it all given on a chamber music scale, the singers having no need to strive to match the volume of a full orchestra, which can easily become overpowering in a small theatre.

The fun and confusions develop from Giove, King of the Gods, posing as the goddess Diana in order to seduce Calisto, petite Korean soprano Hei Mi Lee, who sang and acted the name part delightfully on our night at RAM opera.

Not everyone essayed the pure non-vibrato style pioneered by Emma Kirkby which by now has become the HIP standard, and some of the florid singing tested the performers, but the standard was generally high, with some excellent characterisations from a large cast of 'Gods, priapic satyrs, chaste nymphs, peacocks, dancing bears and an astronomer' directed with flair and a light touch by John Ramster, who also designed the effective and witty staging (economical too; ladders for mountains, etc) and was supported by an inventive team.

The two casts (ours, pictured, was the second) deserved more than one night each; the RAM Opera production should be revived.

Peter Grahame Woolf


Read about other versions of La Calisto:
from Munich (Ivor Bolton/David Alden/Sally Matthews)
and Brussels (Jacobs/Wernicke DVD)



La Calisto at Royal Opera, Covent Garden 23 September 2008

We found ourselves out of sympathy with the the much-hyped Covent Garden 2008 revival of Munich's extravagant Alden/Bolton production of La Calisto, brought to London with virtually the original cast. Sally Matthews in the title role was particularly impressive, but I do not propose to go into detail about others of the large cast, who did well what was required of them.

Critical opinion was polarised with Musical Criticism, in one of the most detailed reviews, concluding that it is "- - simply tawdry and tiring to look at, depressingly superficial and heartless - - and does Cavalli very few favours", rating a rare, meagre 2.5 stars.

For an opposite response see Seen & Heard's positive review from Munich; both those reports carry a good range of images to help you decide whether this farrago is your sort of thing.

It was not to our taste or sense of humour. The Financial Times echoed our feelings " - - the audience sits glumly through 2½ hours of sung Italian dialogue - - If La Calisto is not funny – – then it’s nothing".

For a full range of the "mixed reviews" go to the indispensable TheOperaCritic (there is free trial membership for readers who need it). I should warn you that the Royal Opera's advertisement for the remaining performances is an example of selective quotation at its most meretricious.

We agree with one commentator who thought it would have been more suitable for the smaller Linbury Studio, which raises the vexed question of whether student productions of opera ought to be reviewed or not? In my view, the review above of the Royal Academy of Music's production earlier this year clinches the argument.

Another production we enjoyed, with little pretension towards musical authenticity, was Glyndebourne's with Janet Baker (1970); plenty of fun, but some warm humanity too. And really, Raymond Leppard's hedonistic, lush orchestration ("too lavish for the purists" - Musical Opinion) would, I guess, be more appropriate - and welcome to Covent Garden audiences - than Bolton's, just as Stokowski's Bach arrangements are more suitable for the Royal Albert Hall than HIP versions given by small ensembles).

A final reminiscence and regret for the numerous Terence Emery productions of the '60s, designed for Lina Lalandi at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, "an important contribution to the reintroduction of early opera with magnificent costumes, elegant dance and the period instruments for which they were written".

Lina Lalandi's heroic pioneering efforts to recreate 17/18 C stage authenticity through her English Bach Festival seem to have given way to populist sensationalism exemplified by this garish post-modernist La Calisto at Covent Garden.

Peter Grahame Woolf