Every December since 2002 Sydney’s Pinchgut Opera has produced an obscure baroque opera at the City Recital Hall. The company employs top-notch instrumentalists wth period instruments that produce an incredibly haunting and evocative blend of sounds; they gather outstanding soloists, including a few international guests; and they bring these together in a cleverly staged, intelligently directed musical drama. What they achieve, every time, is to make you scratch your head and wonder how on earth such a sublime masterpiece could ever have fallen into obscurity.
This year’s work is L’Ormindo, composed in 1644 by Francesco Cavalli. It’s essentially a melodrama with touches of comedy; the poster stresses ‘Love Triangles’. I’d never heard of Cavalli, but I’ve discovered that one doesn’t know anything about mid, as opposed to early or late, 17th Century opera, if one doesn’t know about him, since he was evidently its brightest luminary.
I might comment on the production after I see it on Sunday, but by then it will be too late to influence any Troppo reader. If you’re in Sydney and like this sort of thing, don’t miss it. There seem to be quite a few seats left for Sunday and Monday. Pinchgut’s productions have become the highlight of my musical calendar. They’re all very different, but each one is like riding an exhilarating wave of sound and theatre — an intense experience that envelopes you, and stays with you for days.
In the absence of a review from me, here’s a crash course on Pinchgut and L’Ormindo from mezzo-soprano Fiona Campbell, who’s performing in her third production with the company. She was unforgettable in Juditha Triumphans.
Pinchgut’s website has everything you could possibly want to know about the opera’s plot, composer, musical style, and history, and about their own production.
I acquainted myself with the piece through a recording by Les Paladines. If by some remote chance you don’t possess this CD, the best indication I could find on the internet of what the music sounds like is some clips from this production in Waco Texas of all places, which actually isn’t bad. It’s the Renaissance end of baroque. I read somewhere that Cavalli was a bridge between Monteverdi and Handel. But to my ear he’s pretty much indistinguishable from the former, which is no great surprise, since he was his protégé and indeed, according to the Pinchgut notes, ‘scholars believe Cavalli wrote or edited a good portion of Monteverdis last two great stage works Return of Ulysses and Coronation of Poppea.’
In short, if you like Monteverdi — a composer who reaches across four centuries and grabs you by the heart — you’ll like Cavalli.