In February, Juilliard Opera offered composer Francesco Cavalli and librettist Giovanni Faustini’s early opera “La Calisto” (1651), with intimacy and immediacy, in its Rosemary and Meredith Willson Theater upstairs, as a beautifully sung, played, acted, and danced, pastoral, mythological, and gender-blurring chamber operatic romp of lovelorn, lust-driven, infuriated, and shape-shifting gods and goddesses, nymphs and shepherds, and satyrs and furies. Discussed here is the February 19 middle one of three performances, conducted from the harpsichord by Stephen Stubbs, leading singers and period instrumental ensemble Juilliard415; directed and choreographed by Zack Winokur; and designed by Adam Charlap Hyman and Andre Herrero (sets), Austin Scarlett (costumes), Marcus Doshi (lighting), Misha Kahn (chandeliers and sconces), and Pilar Almon (painted forest landscape).
Juilliard’s forces took us readily into gilded antiquity and scorched-earth Arcadia, where a god can love a nymph, who can love a goddess, or at least someone she thinks is a goddess; a beauteous goddess can love a hunky shepherd; and a love-starved nymph can be played by a man and a bearded satyr, with cloven hooves, by a woman. Duplicity, manipulation, and hypocrisy in abundance are introduced, exposed, and punished.
Angela Vallone was the lovely lyric soprano Calisto, disciple of Diana (Samantha Hankey); sworn to chastity—“Verginella io morir vo’” (I want to die a virgin); but successfully seduced by the great god Giove/Jove (Xiaomeng Zhang), once he’s advised by the wily Mercurio/Mercury (Michael St. Peter) to woo her in the guise of Diana, and then lavishes on her not only welcome kisses, but also “un certo dolce che” (a certain sweet something), which an ecstatic Calisto can barely describe. Mezzo-soprano Hankey, doubling as Giove-as-Diana and Diana the huntress herself, handily differentiated her twin assignments by bringing an edge and swagger, when portraying Giove, that was largely absent when she played Diana—except when she told off Calisto, as a “puta scemata” (stupid whore), and unwanted suitor Pane/Pan (Matthew Swensen) and his satyr band, for assaulting her beloved shepherd Endimione/Endymion (Jakub Józef Orlinski). At Diana’s first appearance, Hankey lip-synched to Zhang’s rich bass—an offstage moan, after the sensual seduction begun onstage, was also in Zhang’s voice. Lyric tenor St. Peter made as mischievous a Mercurio as one would want.
Lush-voiced countertenor Orlinski, a most comely Endimione, and strong-voiced tenor Swensen, a wild, horned and horny satyr Pane, offered contrasting laments airing unrequited feeling for Diana, Orlinski’s plangent and Swensen’s a force of Nature, but when Orlinski actually connected with Hankey, their timbres matched well.
When the audience returned to our seats for Act Two, we found fiery soprano Julia Wolcott, as a grand and very still Giunone/Juno, already present, garbed in a stage-wide, flowing gold gown, and displaying the highest of dudgeons over the straying Giove’s exploit with Calisto. As punishment, Giunone turned her rival into a bear. To rescue Calisto, Giove, in turn, transformed her into a constellation, Ursa Minor, where she’d shine as one of “le stelle più belle” (the most beautiful of stars), which the full company came to celebrate.
Among the satyrs, the dancing ones Nicholas Jurica and Evan Rapaport, and as Pane’s principal sidekick Silvano, deep-voiced bass baritone Cody Quattlebaum, was mezzo-soprano Caitlin Redding, the no-holds-barred Satarino, who passed over dancing nymphs Sean Lammer and Jacob Thoman, to pursue buffo tenor Alexander McKissick, as the lusty Linfea. Redding and McKissick made a memorable pair. Redding, who served as a pillow for Orlinski’s Endimione’s nap, was the first to denounce Hankey’s Diana, the ‘casta diva’ lusting after the beautiful shepherd, for her hypocrisy. Jurica, Lammer, and Rapaport also played the furies attending Wolcott’s Giunone, no slouch of a fury herself.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Die Zauberflöte,” on April 19, 21, and 23 matinee, in the Peter Jay Sharp Theater, will close Juilliard Opera’s season. Visit www.juilliard.edu
for more information.