Conductor Leonardo García Alarcón
Stage Director and Lighting Jean Bellorini
Stage Designer Jean Bellorini et Véronique Chazal
Costume Designer Macha Makeïeff
Make-up and hairstyling Cécile Kretschmar
Erismena Francesca Aspromonte
Idraspe Carlo Vistoli
Aldimira Susanna Hurrell
Orimeno Jakub Józef Orliński
King Erimante Alexander Miminoshvili
Flerida Lea Desandre
Argippo Andrea Vincenzo Bonsignore
Alcesta Stuart Jackson
Clerio Moro Tai Oney
Diarte Jonathan Abernethy
Orchestra Cappella Mediterranea
At the Théâtre du Jeu de Paume, 21 rue de l’Opera, Aix-en-Provence, from July 7 to July 21, 2017
Erismena is an opera by Francesco Cavalli that was a big hit in 1655. Its popular appeal has dropped somewhat since then and it is almost never produced these days. But the Aix-en-Provence Festival is giving this rarity an outstanding production and the Festival gets a laurel wreath for intelligent and aggressive programming. A world premiere of Pinocchio, an opera by Philippe Boesmans, the production of a very early opera and three familiar works, Carmen, Don Giovanni and The Rake’s Progress, cover a lot of ground, to say the least.
Erismena is a product of its period. A complex story is told through accompanied recitatives and “songs” but this is before the development of the aria so don’t expect lengthy da capo cadenzas.
The language of the opera is ornate, colourful and formulaic. All emotions are extreme. They love, adore, die, suffer, and languish on extraordinary levels and at great length. We accept the mode of expression as a relic of the early years of opera.
The plot is almost impossible to digest by trying to read a synopsis or follow the English surtitles of the performance that is sung in Italian. Director Jean Bellorini tries to be helpful by inserting a scene at the beginning where King Erimante of Media, after defeating the Armenians, dreams of his crown being stolen from him by a knight.
Erismena is in love with Idraspe who dumped her. She disguises herself as an Armenian soldier and goes in search of him but is wounded. She is taken to the court of King Erimante. The disguised and brave Erismena is entrusted to the slave Aldimira. And, you guessed it, Aldimira falls in love with Erismena.
Prince Idraspe shows up in Media disguised as Erineo and he is in love (provide your own adverbs) with Aldimira. Idraspe as Erineo is ordered to poison Erismena but she recognizes him and passes out, ergo no poisoning. Stay with me. Erismena pretends to be her own brother out to find Idraspe. Aldimira has a deal: I find Idraspe, you marry me.
That puts a kibosh on King Erimante’s plan to marry Aldimira and he throws Aldimira and the disguised Erismena in jail. They all escape and are caught and the King orders Idraspe/Erineo and Erismena to kill each other. At which point Erismena bears her breasts to show that she is a woman. Idraspe goes through a quickie metamorphosis (I love you; forgive me). She does and we all find out that Erismena is the king’s daughter.
I have given you only one strand of the plot. There must be another dozen of them but who is counting. There are ten characters and every one of them has a convoluted story.
The singing is quite marvelous even without the lengthy arias and coloratura cadenzas. Soprano Francesca Aspromonte has a sumptuous voice and she gives a marvelous performance in a role that requires a lot of running on and off stage. That is true for all the cast. The other soprano in the cast is Susanna Hurrell who gives an equally fine performance.
There are two countertenors in Carlo Vistoli as Idraspe and Jakub Józef Orliński as Prince Orimeno (who is dumped by Aldimira but he eventually marries her). Always a delight to hear finely tuned high male voices. The King is sung by Alexander Miminoshvili, a bass baritone as becomes the rank of the role.
Tenor Stuart Jackson plays the old nurse Alcesta. He is a big man dressed in a purple dress and provides a bit of comedy. I thought Alcesta would provide quite a few laughs but that simply did not fully materialize.
The sets by Jean Bellorini and Véronique Chazal were minimalist, sometimes consisting of a couple of chairs and at times using a platform and effective lighting to indicate dreams. The costumes by Macha Makeïeff were of no particular time period but they may be described as modern. Dresses, kilts, skirts, a fur jacket, some colourful shoes, they went all over the place.
One of the big delights was the tiny Cappella Mediterranea orchestra conducted by Leonardo García Alarcón. They provided a wonderful treat of 17th century music that made you accept the plot twists without wincing.
A fascinating night at the opera.