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Selected Review


Opera

Glyndebourne Festival
Cavalli: Hipermestra

Hipermestra Glyndebourne

Just to prove that Glyndebourne does not believe in gimmicks, the 2017 season opened with an unknown title. Although Cavalli composed many operas, only La Calisto and L'Ormindo have been seen more often than any other (and especially at Glyndebourne); so where does one place Hipermestra and why was it chosen?

Scholars may know the story from a different angle, that of The Danaides, the fifty daughters of King Danao who are instructed to marry the fifty sons of his brother Egitto and kill them during the wedding night. Thus he tries to defy the prophecy that one of his brother's sons will kill him. What he does is the very opposite, he assures that the prophecy will be true.

So the story is strong and interesting, but how about the music? A full house on June 4th looked in vain for an orchestra but could only find ten musicians dressed in modern Arab costumes (including the conductor), the sets revealed an oil rich modern country, and in the middle there was a hugely tiered wedding cake, more than enough to feed one hundred and their guests.

The music which introduces the wedding ceremony is acted by the fifty marrying couples who pay homage to Danao, King of Argos, but the high point comes next, a passionate and sensual scene between Hipermestra and her husband Linceo. They love each other to bits and this means she cannot kill him and tells him to escape the country instead. What ensues is a drama of the highest quality, with music of the highest quality.

Cavalli does not really write arias, his style is more of a sang speech (not Sprechgesang) with short bursts of songs, they are not arias in the sense of Handel for instance, but more like a baroque Wagner, and most importantly, the dramatic tension does not drop one bit, it is constantly interesting, the public's attention is focused on the ten characters on stage, all of the well formed, all of them quite real, especially the intransigent Berenice, acted and sang with piquancy by Mark Wilde.

What a wonderful vehicle then to bring back one of the most celebrated directors in the Kingdom? Graham Vick does not need introductions, least of all at Glyndebourne, and his production created an atmosphere of tragedy, humour, hope all in one go, with evocative and elaborate sets by Stuart Nunn. Vick is an expert director, his Personenregie was simply celestial, each character moving and expressing emotions not just convincingly but at the highest theatrical level, the ćsthetic was simply delicious, and the courage to bring an outrageous gigantic blue bird - albeit fleetingly - (Juno) to rescue Hipermestra from suicide was just enchanting and perfectly fitting for one of the most satisfying opera afternoons I can recall at Glyndebourne. Raffaele Pe was the passionate Linceo, who turns into a revengeful husband, especially when he is told that Hipermestra has been unfaithful (she has not), singing with a powerful and characterful countertenor; and what a lovely Hipermestra to be in love with, Emöke Baráth was the embodiment of the faithful wife who feels torn because she would like to serve her father. Baráth sang with full tone, beautiful voice and acted sweetly. Ana Quintans played Elisa, a complex character, in love with Arbante, who is in love with Hipermestra, Quintan's expressive face and characterful voice gave this role grace and credibility. Benjamin Hulett was the two faced Arbante and Renato Dolcini, another countertenor, sang the troubled and misguided Danao. As Berenice, Mark Wilde delighted the audience with his (her?) antics. This old woman who has sexual fantasies and presumes to know everything is a comical creation, but is also dangerous as she is part of the plot to disgrace Hipermestra in the eyes of Linceo. There was no weak link, and Anthony Gregory's Vafrino was much in character, as were David Webb's Arsace, Alessandro Fisher's Alindo and Rodrigo Ferreira's Delmiro. William Christie conducted from the clavecin, and took part in the action with humour and grace, producing together with Vick's production a show with was both intimate and grand. A rare achievement.

Eduardo Benarroch

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