David's Review Corner
, November 2011
Francesco Cavalli, born in Italy in 1602, was one of first composers to establish opera as a permanent part of theatre in Europe. To that time sung works had appeared occasionally for special court occasions, but were now to be public events performed over regular seasons. To this end Cavalli added thirty-two works in a period of thirty-four years, and as the concept of opera spread through Europe, so Cavalli’s name became increasingly well known. La virtu de’strali d’Amore (The Power of Cupid’s Arrows) dates from 1642, which places it among his early scores in the genre. As with many operas of the time it is based on mythical events often of Greek origin, though this one takes place in Cyprus, the plot having Gods and mortals in a confused situation, not made any less confusing by Cupid and his wretched bows that don’t always end up in the right direction. But after much misunderstanding everything comes right with dead people restored to life, women dressed as men becoming women again and Cupid has his bows taken from him, and not before time. You can imagine the original sets would have been elaborate as we move through many situations, but in Alberto Dellepiane’s production the stage of Venice’s Teatro Malibran has few props and the dress is a mix of period style largely from the early 20th century. That leaves the uneasy juxtaposition of the superb period instrument group, Europa Galante, under their inspirational director, Fabio Biondi, providing the music, while on stage the action is in modern times. Most of the cast are specialists in Baroque opera, many taking more than one role, though the change of costume is hardly an adequate disguise. Particularly outstanding is the pure Italian soprano voice of Cristiana Arcari as Erabena, while the lyric elegance of the Spanish tenor, Juan Sancho, is a constant delight as Pallante. I was also much taken by the soprano, Donatella Lombardi in her numerous parts, with Filippo Adami gives a well characterised Meonte. Some smaller male parts could have been stronger, but as a whole it is very well performed. Much praise also for Europa Galante, and after the film crew have battled through the initial mist of night that does not want to leave the stage in the first act, the visual aspects are well handled. A seldom performed opera—with an English translation in subtitles—that is well worth your investigation.