Pinchgut Opera’s latest production features 2014 Mathy Winner, Maximilian Riebl, along with 2009 Semi Finalist, Stacey Alleaume, and is conducted by 2018 MOST Achievement Award Winner, Erin Helyard.
THE LOVES OF APOLLO & DAFNE
City Recital Hall, May 20
Reviewed by PETER MCCALLUM
Seventeenth-century composer Francesco Cavalli’s music captures the freshness of a new expressive style at the birth of opera. There is a new harnessing of the sensuality of the voice, glittering transparency of instrumental sound animated from within by ornamental figurations and rhythms that take their spring from dance steps not previously written down in such detail.
The plots, built around the amorous foibles of gods and mortals, were often judged nonserious by modernist critics, yet today’s age of celebrity culture and reality TV has a different appreciation of the absurd.
As with all Pinchgut productions, pliant musical expressiveness, the lustre of the solo voices and delicate instrumental lightness are the chief strengths, although Mitchell Butel’s production – and the design of Jeremy Allen (set), Melanie Liertz (costume) and Damien Cooper (lighting) – create a bright, tongue-in-cheek repurposing of classical mythology to the narrative of modern gossip.
The six principal singers take on a total of 20 roles, and the character changes have their own ironies as the ageing cuckold (Max Riebl as Titone) becomes the young seducer and the god (Riebl as Cefalo and Apollo), and the wronged wife (Stacey Alleaume as Procris) becomes the vengeful cupid (Alleaume as Amore).
Alexandra Oomens, as the licentious Aurora and the chaste Dafne, has a voice of untarnished smoothness with a joyous, youthful blush to the sound; her final note, poised at the top of a ladder after deciding to turn into a tree, had lingering beauty.
Taking four roles spanning age, youth and immorality, countertenor Riebl was not only theatrically versatile but, in the parts of the fickle Cefalo and the gym-bunny Apollo, had a smooth and smouldering glow to the sound and a confident dramatic presence.
Stacy Alleaume took all of her roles with bright vocal colour, presenting cupid with fiery vocal and dramatic pluck. Jacqueline Dark does excess and fury with comedic panache as Venere, seeking vengeance on Apollo for texting intimate images of her.
Playing Giove (Jupiter) against her, and later Dafne’s plumberfather , the river god Peneo, Andrew O’Connor sings with a beautifully rounded bass-baritone sound that combines richness and depth. Invoking the analogy of the dramatic dream, the prologue of the work is given to Sonno, the god of sleep, which David Hidden delivered with well-moulded pure vowels.
The work is slightly unusual for the period for its wealth of ensembles, and a group of muses (Claudia Mackay, Olivia Payne, Elias Wilson and Andrew-Taylor Knight) provides a transparently balanced quartet at the start.
The Orchestra of the Antipodes is a delight for the delicacy of glistening plucked instruments and sweet string and wind sounds, all led, shaded and paced with a sensitivity to word and tone by conductor and artistic director Erin Helyard. At its best moments, Helyard led players and singers like an ensemble of masterly improvisers, creating the moment out of nothing but human feeling and quiet breath.
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