Review by Coril Prochnow:
As a revival of Cavalli’s La Calisto is being seen in Europe and the United States, Pacific Opera Project launched their own version of the complex and bawdy comedy in Highland Park during the merry month of May, executing what is quite possibly a premiere of the work in Southern California.
The entertainment started as soon as patrons entered the theatre. There was a feeling that anything might happen, given the unconventional seating arrangements (about 20 cafè tables filled the front audience section) and the comical/informative slideshow playing on a screen over the stage. Add to that the fact that the place was packed to overflowing, and you knew you were in for a memorable evening.
Swings dangled over the audience to the right and left of the stage, and an old playground carousel whirled occasionally at audience right, providing space for what seemed at times a three-ring circus rather than an opera, what with gods and goddesses (led by Giove and Diana) cavorting with humans and satyrs and even bears! Truly, nothing was sacred until Giunone (Giove’s wife) descended to earth to check up on her husband and restore order.
Claire Averill sang the part of the young seductress, Calisto, with a full, strong soprano that sounded appropriately young, yet was powerful enough to carry the action alone onstage. Her unwitting conquest of Giove (Ryan Thorn) set the story in motion when he disguised himself as the goddess Diana in order to capture her affections. Mr. Thorn’s golden baritone made easy work of a very challenging vocal role; he was heroic in sound and appearance, even if I could still tell the difference between him and the “real” Diana (sung by Sarah Beaty). Beaty’s creamy smooth mezzo thrilled with its power and warmth, and her appearance was as beautiful and athletic, yet regal, as Diana could ever hope to be. Bryan Pollock used his velvety countertenor to woo the beloved Diana, with mixed results…he won her heart, but she placed him in an eternal sleep so that she could be near him without breaking her vow of chastity.
Giunone entered the fray midway through the opera, sung by Daria Somers – a fiery, jealous goddess with a voice perfectly suited to her authority and rank: rich, full of color and character, easily managing the technical demands of the role and dominating all other players (including Giove)…
E. Scott Levin was priceless as Pane, a satyr in love with Diana but doomed to disappointment in that arena. An excellent musician, his bass baritone was big and impressive and the personality he brought to his role made him unforgettable as a comic/dramatic character. Patrick Dailey (countertenor, Satirino), Joseph von Buhler (tenor, Linfea), Phil Meyer (bass baritone, Sylvano) and Adrian Rosales (baritone, Mercurio) all performed admirably; in fact, it seemed that the entire cast and chorus were top notch in their preparation and presentation. Not only did they know their music and staging without hesitation, but they also seemed to be having the time of their lives up on that stage! Their enjoyment of the performance turned the show into more than I usually expect from any opera company. The skill levels and the chemistry between all the performers brought the production to life.
Sets were built under the direction of Josh Shaw, who created a two-story structure onstage to illustrate the difference between Heaven (upstairs, where the gods lived) and Earth (downstairs, where all the action was). Parties descended via a choice of slides and ascended via magical toilets which emanated thunder and lightning when in use, with separate entrances for “Donne” and “Uomini”. Earthly structures were covered with giant graffiti and graphic illustrations, emphasizing the anarchy and chaos that prevailed on earth. Floodlights filled the stage with yellow, green, blue, purple, fuschia and red glows that helped carry the other-worldly fantasy. Maggie Green deserves credit for an extraordinary array of costumes which communicated each character’s identity and the ribald, blatant sexuality of the story in a funny and endearing way, without seeming to offend anyone in the audience. Very creative.
Stephen Karr conducted a chamber orchestra which accompanied the production with delicacy and elegance, supporting the vocal sound and maintaining the ornamented Baroque style. The musical textures provided by the highly qualified period orchestral ensemble added a dimension of sound and color that enriched the overall experience.
Supertitles were projected onto a screen above the stage, which made it possible for the audience to follow the plot and its infinite subtleties (as interpreted by POP).
Colorful, irreverent, slapstick, yet full of disciplined vocal and instrumental performances, La Calisto is another successful production in a series of great productions by POP. For info on their upcoming season, go to www.pacificoperaproject.com.
Notes from Jay Galbraith:
POP continues to deliver the most bang for your opera buck in the Southland (greater LA to the Mexican border). Who knew Cavalli’s La Calisto would be a hit? Founder and Artistic Director Josh Shaw and Music Director Stephen Karr took a chance and found out it was.
I attended the final performance and “enjoyable”, “hilarious” and “entertaining” do not begin to describe this production. The show was sold out, as are most of POP’s presentations, and the audience roared with delight!
La Calisto is/was/will be, by definition and presentation, vulgar in the extreme…
Vulgar 1.) Common 2.) Crude or indecent: crude or obscene, particularly with regard to sex or bodily functions 3.) Tasteless or ostentatious: showing a lack of taste or reasonable moderation)
…and POP can be proud of it because it worked!
The singing, however, was neither common nor crude, but acceptable by the highest standards. No weak links.
POP will be presenting Tosca in September with the audience moving from a church sanctuary (Sant’Andrea della Valle) to a common room (Palazzo Farnese) to the great outdoors (Castel Sant’Angelo). This will be POP’s largest undertaking to date.
POP in December will be reviving their presentation of La Boheme and I already have a table for four (with wine and cheese plate) for under $100.00! Beat that at Dottie’s Place downtown!
By the way, Josh Shaw also announced that La Calisto has paid for itself, as have most of POP’s previous productions, from the box office alone! Yes, it can be done!
Full disclosure: I have hired both Josh Shaw, Stephen Karr and some of their cast of singers in the past, as well as being acquainted with several of the performers from previous work.