Thursday, November 27, 2014

Cavalli’s Elena - The Many Faces of Love - Opéra de Rennes, France

Photo: Jef Rabillon

Susanne Daumann

There are these rediscovered masterpieces that are interesting for a concert season or two, get recorded and fall back into oblivion. And there are discoveries and re-discoveries that are here to stay. Which will be the fate of this Elena by Francesco Cavalli that Leonardo García Alarcón has brought back to life?  Time will tell. For the time being, the production from the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence and the European Academy of Music, co-produced with several partners, among them the Opéra de Rennes, is delighting publics all over France. Is this due to the excellence of the production or to the work itself and its qualities? Probably both. This exuberant comedy, made of trickeries, disguises and surprises, is also a little survey of the different faces of Love, represented by the different characters. Elena, beautiful Helen, is a young girl awaiting “love”, without really knowing what it is she is waiting for. Giulia Semenzato, who incarnates her here, is young, beautiful, mischievous and sensitive and her agile voice expresses all the feelings she must go through before love, the one and only real love, can win. Elena is kidnapped by Teseo, a not so distant cousin of Don Giovanni’s, incarnated very convincingly by Fernando Guimaraes, tenor. Teseo and his servant, Peritoo, also ravish an Amazon named Elisa, who is in reality Menelaos who loves Elena for real and forever. Elena has no clue about Elisa’s real identity and falls in love with Teseo, once he has given up his bluster about violence and abuse and treats her with some respect. The Stockholm syndrome? Peritoo is in his turn in love with Elisa, aka Menelao. Counter-tenor Carlo Vistoli is a really funny sidekick with this Peritoo, his way of ogling Elisa each time they meet is a running gag. Another counter-tenor is Elisa/Menelao:  Kangmin Justin Kim is supple of movements and voice, and masters brilliantly the difficulties of his role. He will meet with despair when she believes herself in love with Teseo, but he loves her all the same. Another face of love is that of an old man falling for a young girl, as it is the case with Elena’s supposed father (her real father is Zeus aka a swan, and her mother is Leda), sung by the excellent bass Krzysztof Baczyk who falls madly in love with Elisa, as soon as she is brought to his court. And the other face of love at first sight is a young boy’s: Menesteo, the son of king Creonte, who gives refuge to Teseo with his servant and captives. Menesteo falls is love with Elena and wants to kill his rival Teseo. Mezzo-soprano Anna Reinhold sings this Menesteo with androgynous charm and conviction. Rejected love, turning to rage, can be found as well: Ippolita, an Amazon and ancient lover of Teseo’s is looking for him and wants to kill him. Mezzo-soprano Gaia Petrone gives him life and voice. The court jester, finally, Iro, incarnated with joyous abandon by tenor Emiliano Gonzalez Toro, represents, with many a lascivious gesture, the grotesque and a bit ridiculous side of the sexual act.  In the end, the whole jumble is cleared up, identities are made known, murderers, saviours and would-be-murderers are revealed, lovers are reunited and Menelao and Elena, counter-tenor and soprano, sing a sublimely tender final duet.  Cavalli’s subtle and expressive music is finely orchestrated and delicately illustrates all these different and nuanced feelings.  The excellent Cappella Mediterranea, conducted by Leonardo García Alarcón do him ample justice.  Jean-Yves Ruf’s staging, with Laure Pichat’s stage design, makes do with the minimum. Intense stage action gives room for the singers to sing. The set consists of a few wooden walls on different levels in a half-round, a few items of furniture, a few props and in Act II, when everyone is running after someone else or is hiding or looking for someone, a set of red string curtains. The costumes, between renaissance and rococo, help effectively to identify the social status of every character in the play.  Thus, everything comes together for musical theatre to work its magic once again. Bravi tutti!

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