David Hansen hits the highs with soapsuds and fluffy towels.
Cavalli’s operatic take on the theft of the Golden Fleece was once the most popular work on the musical stages of Europe. It’s taken 400 years for it to make its way to our fair shores, but to judge from Pinchgut Opera’s feel-good frolic, in a simple but effective staging by Chas Rader-Shieber, it’s been well worth the wait.
Cavalli inherited the musical mantle of Monteverdi, but he avoided the Neo-Platonic moralising of the earlier Italian operatic works and followed the public taste for fun, spectacle and, yes you’ve guessed it, sex.
A crack band of 13 (drawn from a beautifully enthusiastic Orchestra of the Antipodes) are lead by the magnetic Erin Helyard, whose graceful ducking and weaving provides an evening’s entertainment all of its own. Helyard doesn’t put a foot wrong all night and his sense of communion with orchestra and singers it total.
Taking the lead role of the ambiguously semi-heroic Jason is the charismatic David Hansen, one of today’s leading countertenors and on this showing a very classy act indeed. His first entry in the bathtub, with naught but a strategically placed soapsud to conceal his modesty, is a coup-de-theatre. Even more of a coup though is his vocal entry. His powerful soprano is sweet across the full range despite the perilous tessitura of the role. His performance oozes confidence, even though his clothes have a habit of coming adrift throughout the evening.
Il Giasone is very much an ensemble opera though, and the rest of the cast live up to Hansen’s standards. Chief honours must go to the two ladies in his life, Celeste Lazarenko as the spunky sorceress Medea and Miriam Allen as the prematurely abandoned first wife, Isifile.
Lazarenko makes a deliciously decadent Medea, a thoroughly pampered Princess in love with nothing quite so much as herself. Vocally she’s a knockout, her voice blending perfectly with Hansen in their numerous little love duets, and revealing quite a chest-register as she delivers a star turn in a bombastic demonic conjuration. Allen is a sympathetic foil, her voice sweet and pure, yet able to rouse herself in a blistering farewell to life.
Andrew Goodwin’s plangent tenor is well suited to the Angel Place acoustic as well as to the role of the permanently dropping Egeo. By the end of the show though he’s managed to cut an engagingly sympathetic character and reveals impressive vocal and dramatic reserves.
In the lower male voice department an excellent Nicholas Dinopoulos makes a smooth fist of a stiff-upper –lip Hercules, disapproving of Jason’s languorous dalliance yet up for a bit of rumpy-pumpy with Alexandra Oomens’ charmingly sung and acted Alinda. He also gets to deliver the line of the night as he informs Isifile that he only kills one queen per day! David Greco displays a standout baritone as Isifile’s servant Oreste. His acting, comic timing and warm stage persona makes much of a rather ill-defined role.
In the buffo roles Adrian McEniery makes a delightfully frumpy cross-dressing ‘nurse’ complete with handbag and hairy legs. Christopher Saudners does what he can with the role of Demo. The operatic comedy stutterer is a wretched hangover from an era when we were expected to laugh at disability. Still, he’s a most engaging actor with an attractive voice.
Il Giasone is a full evening’s entertainment but thanks to the intrepid Pinchgut its two-and-a-half hours fly by