Director and Conductor: Timothy Nelson
Writer: Giovanni Faustini
Translators: Anne Ridler and Timothy Nelson
Music: Francesco Cavalli
Reviewer: Gareth Roberts
English Touring Opera’s production of La Calisto is a profoundly serviceable production with patches of intermittent brilliance. The Renaissance Opera tells the story of the nymph Calisto, whom the god Giove falls in love with, his seduction of her by trickery, and the consequences. Other strands of the plot follow other characters fortunes and misfortunes in love, such as the comic love romance of Linfia and Satirino and multiple characters unrequited love for Diana.
While Timothy Nelson’s direction is certainly competent and all of the performances excellent, the performance lacks momentum, particularly before the interval. The focus is by and large on the music and, at times, the story seems to have been treated as little more than a distraction. However, the musical performances are excellent and filled with a real character. Paula Sides is superb as Calisto, offering an expressive performance that imbues her songs with character as well as technical accomplishment. Nick Pritchard is similarly impressive as Mercurio, filling his performance with a delightfully subversive humour that brings irony to a production that was, despite its comic stylings, often overly serious.
It is the latter part of the second half (technically the third act) that the play gains real momentum, though. The scene featuring Calisto first realising she has been deception and then cursed by Giove’s vengeful wife is simply beautiful. Paula Sides perfectly moves from elation to despair over the course of the scene, fully exploiting the potential of the songs. Laura Mitchell, substituting for Susanna Fairbairns, is similarly accomplished as the wronged wife, offering us a heart-breaking portrayal of despair and emotional agony. Similarly, a scene in which Diana chases away Pane, the god of beasts, is similarly expressive, if marred by overly sudden bursts of exuberant movement.
Impressively framing this is Mark Howland’s simplistic lighting, which elegantly conveys location at the same time as not distracting from the performances. More problematic however is Takis’ stage design, which uses scrap objects, household items and abstract shapes to represent such diverse landscapes as the cosmos and forests. The bold design is frequently impressive but can be occasionally distracting, such as the use integration of a slide into the performance, which undermines Diana’s otherwise impressive entrance.
The result is a technically excellent production, with impressive performances from the cast that showcase the music. However, at times the story becomes distractingly slow, with the emphasis on music making the story often unengaging. What this production offers is an excellent musical showcase, but one that ultimately neglects the storytelling potential on offer.
Runs until the 23 November 2016 | Image: Jane Hobson