Erismena is an opera in a prologue and three acts by Francesco Cavalli. It was designated as a dramma per musica. The Italian libretto was by Aurelio Aureli, the only work by this writer for Cavalli.
Erismena is the first full-length opera known to have been translated into English and may have been first performed in England in 1674.
It was first performed in Venice at the Teatro Sant' Apollinare on 30 December 1655 with further performances between that date and 28 February 1656. Cavalli revised the work in 1670. Both versions have survived as well as one with an English translation, also dated to the 17th century.
Erismena is an opera by Francesco Cavalli that was a big hit in 1655. Its popular appeal has dropped somewhat since then and it is almost never produced these days. But the Aix-en-Provence Festival is giving this rarity an outstanding production and the Festival gets a laurel wreath for intelligent and aggressive programming. A world premiere of Pinocchio, an opera by Philippe Boesmans, the production of a very early opera and three familiar works, Carmen, Don Giovanni and The Rake's Progress, cover a lot of ground, to say the least.
Erismena is a product of its period. A complex story is told through accompanied recitatives and "songs" but this is before the development of the aria so don't expect lengthy da capo cadenzas.
The language of the opera is ornate, colourful and formulaic. All emotions are extreme. They love, adore, die, suffer, and languish on extraordinary levels and at great length. We accept the mode of expression as a relic of the early years of opera.
The plot is almost impossible to digest by trying to read a synopsis or follow the English surtitles of the performance that is sung in Italian. Director Jean Bellorini tries to be helpful by inserting a scene at the beginning where King Erimante of Media, after defeating the Armenians, dreams of his crown being stolen from him by a knight.
Erismena is in love with Idraspe who dumped her. She disguises herself as an Armenian soldier and goes in search of him but is wounded. She is taken to the court of King Erimante. The disguised and brave Erismena is entrusted to the slave Aldimira. And, you guessed it, Aldimira falls in love with Erismena.
Prince Idraspe shows up in Media disguised as Erineo and he is in love (provide your own adverbs) with Aldimira. Idraspe as Erineo is ordered to poison Erismena but she recognizes him and passes out, ergo no poisoning. Stay with me. Erismena pretends to be her own brother out to find Idraspe. Aldimira has a deal: I find Idraspe, you marry me.
That puts a kibosh on King Erimante's plan to marry Aldimira and he throws Aldimira and the disguised Erismena in jail. They all escape and are caught and the King orders Idraspe/Erineo and Erismena to kill each other. At which point Erismena bears her breasts to show that she is a woman. Idraspe goes through a quickie metamorphosis (I love you; forgive me). She does and we all find out that Erismena is the king's daughter.
I have given you only one strand of the plot. There must be another dozen of them but who is counting. There are ten characters and every one of them has a convoluted story.
The singing is quite marvelous even without the lengthy arias and coloratura cadenzas. Soprano Francesca Aspromonte has a sumptuous voice and she gives a marvelous performance in a role that requires a lot of running on and off stage. That is true for all the cast. The other soprano in the cast is Susanna Hurrell who gives an equally fine performance.
There are two countertenors in Carlo Vistoli as Idraspe and Jakub Józef Orliński as Prince Orimeno (who is dumped by Aldimira but he eventually marries her). Always a delight to hear finely tuned high male voices. The King is sung by Alexander Miminoshvili, a bass baritone as becomes the rank of the role.
Tenor Stuart Jackson plays the old nurse Alcesta. He is a big man dressed in a purple dress and provides a bit of comedy. I thought Alcesta would provide quite a few laughs but that simply did not fully materialize.
The sets by Jean Bellorini and Véronique Chazal were minimalist, sometimes consisting of a couple of chairs and at times using a platform and effective lighting to indicate dreams. The costumes by Macha Makeïeff were of no particular time period but they may be described as modern. Dresses, kilts, skirts, a fur jacket, some colourful shoes, they went all over the place.
One of the big delights was the tiny Cappella Mediterranea orchestra conducted by Leonardo García Alarcón. They provided a wonderful treat of 17th century music that made you accept the plot twists without wincing.
A fascinating night at the opera.
Source: James Karas (jameskarasreviews.blogspot.com)
Francesco Cavalli (1602-1676)
Dramma per musica
Opera in a prologue and three acts
Libretto by Aurelio Aureli
Erismena..........Francesca Aspromonte, soprano
Idraspe & Erineo..........Carlo Vistoli, countertenor
Aldimira..........Susanna Hurrell, soprano
Orimeno..........Jakub Józef Orliński, countertenor
Erimante..........Alexander Miminoshvili, baritone
Flerida..........Lea Desandre, mezzo-soprano
Argippo..........Andrea Vincenzo Bonsignore, baritone
Alcesta..........Stuart Jackson, tenor
Clerio Moro..........Tai Oney, countertenor
Diarte..........Jonathan Abernethy, tenor
Conductor: Leonardo García Alarcón
Stage Director and Lighting: Jean Bellorini
Stage Designer: Jean Bellorini & Véronique Chazal
Costume Designer: Macha Makeïeff
Make-up and hairstyling: Cécile Kretschmar
Direction by Jérémie Cuvillier
Produced by François Duplat
Festival International d'Art Lyrique d'Aix-en-Provence, Théâtre du Jeu de Paume, July 12, 2017
After Monteverdi's death, Francesco Cavalli became the leading opera composer in Venice. Tremendously popular during his lifetime, he was soon forgotten after his death, and his operas vanished from the stage until their resurrection toward the end of the twentieth century.
Cavalli's father, G.B. Caletti, was probably his first music teacher. Federico Cavalli, the Venetian governor of Crema whose name Cavalli eventually adopted, was taken with young Francesco's voice and brought him back to Venice with him at the end of his term. Cavalli entered the cappella of St Mark's in Venice as a boy soprano in 1616. After his voice changed, he remained in the cappella as a tenor.
During Cavalli's first 25 years at St Mark's, he sang under the direction of Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643), with whom he cultivated a relationship, and with he may have studied formally. His earliest known publication is a motet printed in Leonard Simonetti's Ghirlanda sacra, an anthology of motets by 26 composers.
Cavalli supplemented his income from St. Mark's by taking other positions in Venice, including that of organist at the church of Sts Giovanni e Paolo. He also sang and played at numerous church festivals. His marriage (January 7, 1630) to Maria Sozomeno brought the composer a substantial dowry and some measure of financial independence.
Cavalli was appointed second organist at St Marks in 1639; at approximately the same time, he invested in the Teatro San Cassiano (the first public opera house in Venice [built in 1637]), and began writing operas for that theater. This proved to be a sound financial venture for Cavalli, since he earned far more money writing for the theater than he did from his position at St Mark's. By 1670, he had composed 41 stage works, most for the San Cassiano. Cavalli's Egisto (1643), Ormindo (1644), and Calisto were all especially successful productions; these, as well as others, have been revived in the twentieth century (often by Raymond Leppard, who greatly altered Cavalli's scores).
Cavalli visited Paris twice, and a modified version of his Serse (1654) was given there in 1660 as part of Louis XIV's wedding celebration. This represented a compromise, because the opera Cavalli had been commissioned to compose, Ercole amante (Hercules in love), was not completed in time for the performance. Finished in 1662, Ercole amante is notable among Cavalli's works for the use of orchestral strings to accompany recitative; earlier works had made use of basso continuo alone.
The most popular of Cavalli's operas was Giasone, composed in 1649; it is a perfect example of Cavalli's stark division between recitative and aria. In the perhaps inevitable comparison between Giasone and Cavalli's other operas with the works of Monteverdi, the younger composer's recitatives are less passionate, less probing into the psyche of the character, and lacking in the variety of Monteverdi's. However, Cavalli's arias are more developed than Monteverdi's. Strophic in format, Cavalli's arias are generally in triple meter and the words are set syllabically, except for occasional decorative melismas. In each opera, there is usually at least one lament, often employing a repeated, descending bass line and resembling a passacaglia.
It is in his sacred works that Cavalli most resembles Monteverdi; his earliest known sacred piece, Cantate Domino, could be mistaken for a work by the older master. The conservative nature of Cavalli's sacred works no doubt stems from his desire to maintain the musical tradition of St Mark's, developed in previous decades by Gabrieli and Monteverdi.
John Palmer (allmusic.com)
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