Cavalli’s operas still remain tricky to bring off. Though
nowadays few people would think of performing an edition as
luxuriant and interventionist as Raymond Leppard’s for
the Glyndebourne Festival, there is still plenty of scope for
an editorial hand.
For a start, the operas are generally long, far longer than
we nowadays would consider. An urtext can be difficult to establish.
So there is a lot of scope for being creative when creating
the edition actually being performed. This new recording of
Cavalli’s Il Giasone from Vlaamse Opera is frustratingly
silent about what we are actually hearing. The score revision
is credited to Alexander Krampe but his article in the CD booklet
tells us little about his editorial methods even if there is
a lot about his admiration for early copyists.
The recording comes in at 190 minutes. That’s rather less
than René Jacobs 234 minutes on his 1989 Harmonia Mundi
recording. Jacobs recorded a cut edition, so that we are inevitably
hearing a version which misses things out. It would be nice
to be told what and why.
The other problem is the balance between comedy and tragedy.
Venetian opera of this period revelled in the juxtaposition
of comic and serious characters. On this disc we do get a good
mix of comedy and pathos. Il Giasone is itself rather
difficult to take, because even the serious characters get mixed
up in a plot which could come from a Carry On film. Both
Giasone (Christoph Dumaux) and Medea (Katarina Bradic) are provided
with exes, Isfile (Robin Johannsen) and Egeo (Emilio Pons).
Their comings and goings render Medea’s vengeance and
Giasone’s heroics mere side-shows to the main event, something
approaching a four-door Whitehall farce.
To the credit of the original theatre director, the production
seems to have kept a balance. On this set there is a nice mix
between both fun and pain.
Dumaux makes an excellent lover, creating a nicely erotic atmosphere.
As a hero Giasone is hopeless; he is completely interested in
his latest woman, unreliable and certainly not heroic. Dumaux
makes the most of this. That said, I have to admit that the
role seems to sit a little oddly for him in terms of tessitura
and there are moments when he seems uncomfortable.
As Medea, Katarina Bradic successfully moves from infatuated
lover to vengeful sorceress. Her duets with Dumaux are notable,
particularly their tryst Act 3. She is tremendous in invocation
to the spirits at the end of Act 1.
The most consistent character is Isfile; she is the lover spurned
and Robin Johannsen is superb in her tragic scenes such as the
opening to Act 2. Filippo Adami makes a lovely Demo, the largest
comic character, a stammering dwarf. Adami stammers hilariously
but sings Demo’s songs like Con arte con lusinghe
quite delightfully. The rest of the cast, all playing double
roles, are well cast though not all sound like period specialists
and a little too much vibrato does creep in. The vocal doubling
- and the large cast of characters, 14 in all - means that you
do need to be on the ball about who is who.
The Symphony Orchestra of Vlaamse Opera accompanies with a small
string band (11 players), recorders, cornett and timpani plus
a continuo group of viol, two lutes and two harpsichords. Conductor
Federico Maria Sardelli keeps things moving and lively yet lets
the melodic moments flower.
The advantage, and disadvantage, of this recording is that it
is taken from live performances in an opera house. You are not
hearing a specialist period performance troupe; these are cast
and players of Vlaamse Opera and in that sense, what they achieve
here is very impressive. More so, in that the performance has
a credible dramatic feel. The scenes tumble over each other,
vividly and you can get drawn in.
The track-list on the booklet is not terribly helpful and the
plot summary rather short so if you want to enjoy this set to
its full then you need to download the libretto (in Italian
and English) from the Dynamic website (www.dynamic.it).
It takes a little finding, but it is there and is well worth
acquiring to be able to follow the set properly.
The set is also available on DVD and frankly, if you can afford
it, then I would buy the DVD to get the full benefit of the
stage production and actually see what is going on. The CD booklet
includes a few photographs of what appears to be an attractive,
modern dress production.
At the moment René Jacobs’ recording is still the
prime recording of this work. This new one, being from a live
non-specialist opera house is a little rougher around the edges,
but manages to be dramatic and engaging. I would be entirely
happy to listen to it, but do consider the DVD.