Opera review: Cavalli’s Hipermestra by Glyndebourne Festival Opera3
The modern rediscovery of Francesco Cavalli has been rather fitful and piecemeal. The Venetian composer, a protege of Monteverdi, is known to have composed at least 32 operas, of which half a dozen are lost, and there are almost certainly more treasures to be found among the ones that have still to unearthed. Glyndebourne, having launched the Cavalli revival in Britain almost half a century ago with stagings of L’Ormindo and La Calisto, opens its new summer season with the UK premiere of Hipermestra, which was first performed in Florence in 1668 but only seen once since.
The production began before we entered the theatre as brides in sumptuous white gowns were paraded around the gardens by grooms in Saudi-style head gear.
The tale is based on the Greek myth in which the 50 daughters of Argos’s King Danao are compelled on the wedding night to murder their bridegrooms – the 50 sons of Danao’s brother Egitto because Danao believes an oracle’s prediction that a nephew is to kill him.
Only the King’s eldest daughter, Hipermestra, defies his orders and helps her husband, Linceo, to escape. For this she is imprisoned by her father and suffers numerous indignities.
Director Graham Vick and designer Stuart Nunn have set the story in an unnamed Gulf state.
It opens to an ornate hall with a bridal arch of pink and white balloons and massive wedding cake. After the night of 49 knives, three washing machines roll on to the stage and blood-stained sheets are piled in by Nurse Berenice (Mark Wilde), a stock comical figure.
One senses a hint of desperation in the director/designer team at the on-stage petrol pumps and limousine as Linceo marshals an army to attack Argos. An invading army truck gets wrecked and bursts into flames. Behind a wire barrier are pumping oil derricks, to remind us of a root cause of Middle East conflict today.
Singing is of a high order, with fine work from counter tenor Raffaele
Pe, as Linceo, and crystalline soprano Emöke Baráth, as Hipermestra. Conductor William Christie and the Orchestra Of The Age Of Enlightenment have a lively time.
Hipermestra proved one of the most lavish spectaculars of the 17th century when it was commissioned by a Medici cardinal for a royal occasion. But scenes of flying gods and ballets have been cut to make the length acceptable for current audiences and now the story ends on a downer.
As the couple are re-united at the end, Linceo morphs from ardent lover to traditional Arab Gulf husband, covering his wife’s head in black and dragging her off stage. Similar treatment awaits Hipermestra’s confidante Elisa (Ana Quintans) and Benjamin Hulett’s General Arbante.