Saturday, December 5, 2009


Pinchgut's 2009 show, Cavalli's L'Ormindo (1644), opened on Wednesday night and as much fun as it is, it is a lot more. It is a delightful look into the past with little shreds of us exposed on the layers as they are peeled back, or appliqued on, if you look at that in reverse, with the resultant spectrum of broad action and variable nuanced detail ending up an eclectic mix of styles from high Capriccios camp, through music hall romp of the phallic pillow variety, to a more studied stand and deliver. That things are quite so mixed could at first glance be a point of criticism, possibly explained by the last minute changes in direction, and directors, together with stage performers of quite mixed solo experience, but nonetheless, it ends up a comedy not taking itself too seriously, except of course for its musical and vocal values, and all's well that laughs well.

More to the point, Alex Ross suggests in a piece in the New Yorker earlier this year, that this (mid-17thC) was a "time of dissolution and self-reinvention", when "melodrama, bawdy humor, and disorienting collisions of high and low permeated the form" or as Erin Helyard (Musical Director) points out in the programme notes, it was the time when "opera went public" and the "formality of private courts" moved to "raucous [public] theatres." L'Ormindo, as such, is a perfect template for what was going on, and for us a rare peep back. It is just a peep; there will be no record of this performance, although Wednesday's opening night will be broadcast on ABC Classic FM this Sunday night.

Francesco Cavalli was really Pietro Francesco Caletti-Bruni (1602-1676), born in Crema (Lombardy) but took the name of his Venetian patron. A bit like Tony Abbott becoming Tony Pell. He wrote 33 operas, was hugely popular, as one filling music halls always is, and is believed to have written or edited "a good portion of Monteverdi’s last two great stage works – Return of Ulysses and Coronation of Poppea". He was, as Mr Ross points out, the one who "perfected the transition from recitative to aria - the thrilling transformation of musicalized speech into song." That's some mark in the history of song.

We sat again on the third tier, able to look down on the Orchestra of the Antipodes in full flight, with Erin Helyard a fantastic creature of all limbs, no body and wonderfully rounded shining bald head, emerging up from his hapsichord seat like a giant spider, working his players and the singers with much care and attention. The sound up there is interesting, and I should try somewhere else I suppose, but it is like being in a bell (ok, I've never been in a bell), in that at some dynamic point, or resonant point, the sound, and especailly the voice, blooms out into a fullness quite uplifting. I found I was waiting for it, and wasn't disappointed.

I liked the set a lot, and the lighting was simple and effective. I'm not going to do a voice by voice thing, others will do it I'm sure, but I especially liked David Walker's beautiful, just beautiful, sound (the first time I've heard him), Fiona Campbell's strongly etched Erisbe (typo in the programme notes there folks), the basses of Richard Anderson, Ariadeno, and Andrei Laptev, Osmano (he's very good), but most of all Taryn Fribig's Sicle. And the applause-o-meter agreed I think. I'm getting a thing for her. I found in the Peter Grimes I was increasingly watching her. I keep thinking back to Marilyn Richardson (perhaps it is the eyes), vocally as well as stage presence, and wonder what is front of her. She sounded glorious on Wednesday.

Special thanks to Pinchgut for a particularly good programme, not riddled with gaudy advertising, with good explanatory notes, and a full libretto!

Go and make a night of it. Relax, enjoy the city, get into the time machine. You only have a few more chances.

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