La Calisto - Further information
World Première on 28th November 1651, Teatro St Apollinare, Venice
Not only Harry Potter fans know that Calisto is the second largest moon of Jupiter. The stars which circle this, the largest planet in our solar system, tend to be named after those that the father of the Gods lusted after – Ganymede, Europa, Io and Leda among others. So one does not need to have an intimate knowledge of Greek mythology to assume, correctly, that Francesco Cavalli’s opera La Calisto is about one of Jupiter’s many love affairs. Calisto was indeed Diana’s favourite arcadian nymph and, as such, swore a vow of chastity. Jupiter, however, never at a loss for a scheme when it came to seduction, simply took on the form of Diana in order to seduce Calisto. The poor girl was punished twice for this: Diana banished her from her entourage and Jupiter’s jealous wife, Juno, turned her into a bear.
Whether or not the fact that Jupiter finally gave her a place in heaven in the constellation of the Great Bear was any consolation for poor darling Calisto is a debatable point.
Francesco Cavalli was one of the first great opera composers and yet was seen as a radical. Only ten years before the first performance of La Calisto (1651), operas had been performed almost exclusively at court. With the opening of the first public opera house in Venice in 1637 the form and content of opera changed. Passion, intrigue and frivolity gradually replaced the lofty arcadian themes of early works. The ancient gods were shoved into the background in favour of comic figures, servants and nurses who, together with ancient heroes, provided a well balanced mixture of seriousness and comedy. La Calisto bears all the symptoms of this transition. Once again the mythical Arcadia is the setting for the story, once again there are only two mortals (Calisto and Endimione) in a cast which otherwise consists exclusively of Gods and spirits. But Cavalli was not a pupil of
Monteverdi’s for nothing; the latter’s two late works Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria
and L’incoronazione di Poppea had already explored new possibilities of the still
young art form, including biting satire. In La Calisto the Gods have lost their role as models for human beings because of their uncontrollable passions and humans are shown as the only ones capable of the finer emotions. From the musical point of view La Calisto stands, so to speak, on the threshold between court opera and opera for the people. The expressive recitatives, which Cavalli gleaned from Monteverdi, are mixed with declamatory arias and the result is a vocal diversity which was unparalleled at the time.
354 years after its performance in Venice, Cavalli’s La Calisto will be a crucial addition to the Baroque repertoire of the Bayerische Staatsoper in its first ever production by the company. It will provide the chronological and stylistic link in the chain between the works of Monteverdi and Händel. Ivor Bolton will conduct a magnificent ensemble of singers with Sally Matthews in the title role as well as Monica Bacelli (Diana), Veronique Gens (Giunone), Umberto Chiummo (Giove), Martin Gantner (Mercurio), Lawrence Zazzo (Endimione), Guy de Mey (Linfea), Dominique Visse (Satirino), Kobie van Rensburg (Pane) and Clive Bayley (Silvano). The première of David Alden's production, in stage designs by Paul Steinberg and costumes by Buki Shiff, will be on 9th May 2005 in the Nationaltheater.
Sir Peter Jonas