Cavalli: Giasone (2CD)

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Pinchgut Opera

David Hansen Giasone
Celeste Lazarenko
Miriam Allan
Andrew Goodwin
Christopher Saunders
David Greco
Nicholas Dinopoulos
Adrian McEniery
Alexandra Oomens

Chris Childs-Maidment, Nicholas Gell, David Herrero, William Koutsoukis, Harold Lander Argonauts (actors)

Orchestra of the Antipodes
Julia Fredersdorff

Erin Helyard conductor and harpsichord
Chas Rader-Shieber
director and co-designer
Katren Wood
Bernie Tan-Hayes
lighting designer
Nicole Dorigo
language coach
Tanya Leach
stage manager

Cavalli’s Giasone has it all – achingly beautiful music, unimaginable tragedy, and ultimate triumph.

Giasone was the most frequently performed opera of the 17th century and took its plot from the Greek myth of Jason and his search for the Golden Fleece.

These days Giasone is rarely performed. Pinchgut's 2013 production was the Australian premiere. Cavalli was a groundbreaking composer of opera. Giasone is at once bawdy and beautiful – and a little bit naughty…

About Francesco Cavalli:

Cavalli began his illustrious career as a talented boy soprano. His sweet singing attracted the ear and patronage of the Venetian governor of Crema, Frederico Cavalli, from whom the talented young musician (then Caletti) later took his last name in gratitude. Under the governor’s protection, Cavalli entered the famed cappella of San Marco in Venice, then under the direction of Monteverdi. Whether the two had a formal pedagogical relationship is unknown, but doubtless the two composer / performers had a close association. Traces of Cavalli’s hand can be found in several of Monteverdi’s works, and Cavalli probably edited Monteverdi’s posthumously published Messa a 4 voci et salmi (Venice, 1650). Cavalli won the post of second organist at San Marco in 1639 and his organ playing won high praise; foreigners compared him favourably with the great Frescobaldi. Indeed, in 1655 the chronicler Ziotti observed that ‘truly in Italy [Cavalli] has no equal’ as vocalist, organist and composer.

Cavalli’s debut as an opera composer occurred in the same year he won his post at San Marco. At first, he was an impresario and administrator as well as a composer. At Venice’s first opera house, the Teatro San Cassiano, Cavalli formed a company with a librettist, singer and dancing-master. Despite some initial financial problems, Cavalli’s troupe began to dominate the nascent opera industry. In the 1640s, Cavalli began working with a series of great librettists including Giovanni Francesco Busenello, then a member of the highly influential Accademia degli Incogniti, and his long-time collaborator, the brilliant Giovanni Faustini. Cavalli’s Egisto (1643) was the first of a series of runaway successes, being performed north of the Alps as well as all over the Italian peninsula. More spectacularly successful still was Cavalli’s setting of Cicognini’s Giasone (1649). Performances of this work quickly spread to almost every opera house in Europe.

Cavalli’s fame and success led him in the 1660s to Louis XV’s court in Paris, where his work had a lasting influence on Lully. He died wealthy and lauded, his vast collection of scores bequeathed to his best student Caliari – luckily still extant today.

Director's Note:

Cavalli and Cicognini’s Giasone is essentially a story about fidelity and the resilience of the human spirit. But it is in the telling of that story that the composer makes the most remarkable choices about how to guide the audience through the startling variety of emotional journeys that take place therein. Cavalli and his librettist have managed to mix the lighter, more romantic-comic side of the adventure (a conniving Medea and an oversexed Giasone) with the melancholy elements of Isifile’s story (an abandoned woman, on the verge of madness over her lost husband).

The opera becomes by turns a charming and slightly risqué romantic adventure, that holds a bittersweet drama in its very loving embrace. There’s a special kind of electricity and theatricality to the juxtaposition of the drama (and its associated element of danger), and the sweetest comedy. Nestled within the charm of Cavalli’s opera is a genuineness of emotion; a searching for dignity from all of the characters. The royals struggle with love and lust, and how power fades in the throes of thrilling emotion. The world of military structure and honour seems to fall into chaos when beautiful women are within sight. Even those who serve the elite (the assistants, ladies-in-waiting and young sailors) can’t resist the allure of the heart (and the flesh!).

Cavalli has created a fascinating and theatrical world of magical battles and well-timed reconciliations, but in a more moving way, it is the battles and reconciliations of the heart that remind us that what we see and hear on stage is not a ‘far away adventure’, but rather an effective and accurate reflection of how we live, behave and love today.

© Erin Helyard 2013

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