Celebrating twenty years of performances, Pinchgut Opera brings us another superb production directed by Mitchell Butel , gloriously sung and with a lush, exquisite performance by the Orchestra of the Antipodes led by Erin Helyard on chamber organ and harpsichord. The Orchestra was streamlined with Baroque harp intrepidly performed by Hannah Lane, Laura Vaughan on viola da gamba and lirone, and Simon Martyn-Ellis on theorbo. 

This production was filmed at the City Recital Hall in May 2021.

THE LOVES OF APOLLO AND DAFNE, his second opera, was written in 1640 by Francesco Cavalli with lyrics by Giovanni Francesco Busenello .Cavalli moved to Venice, Italy, when a schoolboy and was a pupil of Montiverdi .During the 17th century Cavalli was regarded as a major opera composer who wrote over 30 works,  but his music fell into obscurity in the 18th and 19th centuries until roughly the 1950’s.

This is the third Cavalli opera Pinchgut have presented (after Ormindo in 2009, and then Giasone in 2013). It is still rare to see performances of Cavalli’s operas today.

Under Butel’s direction this performance is presented as set right now, bright, colourful and energetic, with mobile phones, computers etc and giving the work a fascinating completely new ‘ twist’ and appearance making it very relevant to today. The designs by Jeremy Allen (set and costumes) and lighting by Damien Cooper are splendid. There are many doublings (even quadrupling) of roles by most of the cast in this fresh, vivid performance. 

The opera opens with Sono the god of sleep (David Hidden)in a sensational solo for his rumbling bass guaranteeing wonderful dreams (his underlings and Morpheus are busy on their laptops while ‘human’ dreamers wear virtual reality goggles – what is real and what isn’t ?)

Act 1 begins and we meet stunning, young, vain Aurora (Alexandra Oomens) and her ill, rather decrepit older  husband Titone (Max Riebl). Aurora has a deliciously catty aria about Titone and claims that Apollo  has asked her to drive his chariot that day – while in reality she is slipping away to meet up with her lover Cefalo (Riebl).

The main part of the opera is set in a park. 

There is Cirilla (Riebl again) who dazzles as a bag lady with her ‘blessed poverty’ aria (sounding a bit like St Francis perhaps), hair in curlers, scarf and spectacles, pushing a brightly coloured yellow shopping trolley and underneath her coat wearing a dress of many colours (a la Joseph and his Technicolour Dreamcoat?) 

She is troubled by a strange dream and consults her friend Alfesibio ( Hidden) who is dressed in a lettuce green shirt, reading the paper and slapping on the Aeroguard .He too has had the same dream but is not sure what to make of it.

We then meet angry and humiliated Venus (Jacqueline Dark) and her father Giove ( Jupiter king of the gods – Andrew O’Connor) furious as Apollo has shown nude photos of her. .Cupid, Venus’ son ( a punk black clad teenager busy using a laptop- Stacey Alleaume) is entrusted with adventure and revenge.

We then meet Dafne, here portrayed as a strong, sassy, chaste gardener (Alexandra Oomens). She has a superb aria about how she is her own person and not in love. She is joined and supported by singing sunflowers. Dafne has a very difficult aria with coloratura that Oomens delivers with great aplomb and ‘talks’ to the birds. We also meet among others Filena (Jacqueline Dark) in a posh tracksuit/leisure suit dressed and walking her dogs. (she even has a plastic bag ready to tidy up dog business) Filena has a gloriously sung aria, expressive and reflective, wishing she was younger. 

Aurora and her lover Cefalo (Riebl) meet (there is a kiss pose straight out of a movie poster). They have a melting love duet. Act 1 ends with Procris, Cefalo’s wife (portrayed by Alleaume), discovering pictures of Aurora on his mobile and singing a ravishing, anguished, heartbroken lament.

For this production Apollo (Riebl) is portrayed as a rather vain, energetic, arrogant yoga instructor who is a little bit silly, perhaps. He is dressed in yellow and black and looks like a bee! (or should I say he is wearing yellow for the sun, or perhaps Australia? He has a tongue twisting aria magnificently performed while doing exercises and five of his muses (in pastel colours and with yoga mats) joining him. Where are the other four muses?

Cupid appears (this time with a heart on his T-shirt) – his ‘arrows’ striking Apollo are photos of Dafne on his mobile. But Dafne coldly rejects him, ties him up with a garden hose and gives him the garbage to put out. 

This is interrupted by a scene with Aurora and Cefalo, both of whom have splendidly lush arias. 

Filena advises Dafne to accept Apollo’s advances but she won’t. She asks her father Peneo, a river god ( Andrew O’Connor) – here portrayed as a plumber – to help. He has a tearful, magnificent aria as she turns into a laurel tree. 

Apollo is also guiltily grief stricken and has a captivating aria lamenting his love. Pan suggests laurel wreaths to symbolise Apollos’s fervent love.  The opera ends with Dafne pleading for peace, Apollo asking for forgiveness and Pan and Apollo singing of love. 

The worlds of gods and mortals are uneasily mixed. Is it all a dream?

I saw this production as a film of the live performance. Interested readers can still watch this performance on Pinchgut At Home.

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