Reviewed – 5th June 2021
“a treat to see emerging young opera stars tackle less well known works”
L’Egisto, billed as a showcase for advancing young singers by the Hampstead Garden Opera, does just that in this new version of the 1643 opera at the Cockpit Theatre. Francesco Cavalli, the composer of L’Egisto (with libretto by Giovanni Faustini), was a pupil of Monteverdi, and enjoyed great success in his own time. Despite languishing forgotten until his rediscovery in the 1970s, Cavalli is now gaining popularity once again. It’s easy to see why. The opera provides lots of opportunities for the stars to show their singing abilities, and there’s even enough drama to keep the characters interesting. Some of the tropes may seem outlandish to modern eyes (Egisto’s mad scene for example) and it’s difficult to sympathize with the gods’ petty meddling in the lives of the unfortunate lovers. But there is a freshness and charm to the unfolding of events, plus some wonderful comic roles for minor characters. This opera is a perfect choice of vehicle for young singers in that regard.
The Hampstead Garden Opera’s production of L’Egisto is easy on the ears, with a talented orchestra and some outstanding voices, but fails, however, to impress the eyes to the same degree. Some choices were forced upon the company, since we are still emerging from the pandemic. Nevertheless, staging L’Egisto with an audience carefully socially distanced on three sides shouldn’t have had problematic sight lines that could have easily been eliminated if the stage had been less cluttered. With performing space at a premium in the Cockpit, it was difficult to see how the addition of shiny disks and gauzy drapes could add much, other than to distract the audience from the performers, and the performers from focusing on each other. The production itself was long; the pace appropriately measured. This production of L’Egisto would have benefitted from more economy of staging, and perhaps more attention to the performers’ costumes which seemed at variance with the opera’s setting and themes.
Setting aside, this is an ambitious production that has two casts alternating with each other for each performance. This is a great idea given the length of each performance and the fact that the company is performing twice daily. In the matinee I attended, I saw Kieran White (tenor) take on the role of Egisto with believable passion and musical dexterity, and he was well matched with his Clori (Shafali Jalota, soprano). The baroque orchestra, under the direction of Marcio da Silva, was a pleasure to listen to. They were also well placed at the back of the performing space, so that the audience could see as well as hear them.
If you are curious about baroque opera, and have yet to make Cavalli’s acquaintance, I encourage you to see this production. It’s also a treat to see emerging young opera stars tackle less well known works like L’Egisto.
Reviewed by Dominica Plummer
Photography by Laurent Compagnon
Cockpit Theatre until 13th June
Shows reviewed by Dominica this year:
Reviewed – 27th May 2018
“proves that you do not need the opulence of “grand opera” to engage an audience to its utmost”
There was a time during the last century when Verdi, inexplicably, had fallen out of fashion. Today, however, his name is synonymous with “grand opera”, and yet his music also pervades our culture far beyond the opera house. One of the main reasons why his music resonates so strongly more than a century after his death is the sheer emotional depth of his compositions. Verdi was perhaps one of the most accessible composers of his time and is still a mainstay for today’s audiences.
Sophie Gilpin’s production of “La Traviata” for ‘Hampstead Garden Opera’ is a case in point, and proves that you do not need the opulence of “grand opera” to engage an audience to its utmost. She takes us into the era of the ‘swinging sixties’: a world of extravagant parties, sexual liberation and political scandals. Against this backdrop, Violetta is a fiercely independent socialite who, recovering from prolonged ill health, meets the charismatic Alfredo at one of her parties with whom she escapes to the country abandoning her former life.
The two principal roles are undoubtedly challenging. But let’s come to them in a moment. The touchstone for this particular opera is the ‘Prelude’, a stirring melody for strings, and from these very first moments we know that we are in good hands. Musical Director Sam Evans has a dozen assured musicians at his fingertips and, although working from an orchestral reduction, the dynamics match those of a full orchestra.
Equally strong are the cast; one cannot help being swept along by the natural energy of the performances. Gilpin excels at drawing out the actor within the singer and her composed yet positive direction accentuates the emotions of the characters. There is an ease, too, that makes the intricacies of the ensemble score seem effortless. And to the fore is Julia Bachmann’s outstanding Violetta. The strength of her soprano cuts to every corner of the auditorium, but within a semiquaver she can whisper the pain she feels as she makes the ultimate sacrifice. Sergio Augusto’s Alfredo is seductively hypnotic in his mix of valour and devotion. There is nothing he wouldn’t do for Violetta, and we truly sense the heartbreak when his father forces Violetta to break off their liaison for the sake of his ministerial career.
This reference to the political scandals of the sixties, however, does seem like a token gesture to place the piece in its context. Beyond this, and the multiple lighting of cigarettes, there is little sense of the time or place. But by then we are so absorbed in the performances that we can forgive this, just as we can forgive the sometimes haphazard musical staging, and the set changes that elevate the word ‘clunky’ to a whole new level.
For this is an outstanding show, with a distinctive blend of virtuosity and passion. Heart warming and heart wrenching in equal measure. You have to be either stone-hearted or tone deaf not to shed a tear for its tragic climax. A musical triumph.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Laurent Compagnon