Still the best way

As I mentioned recently, I’ve been re-evaluating my opinion of pre-recorded opera and finding that it is, after all, a good way to enjoy this art form.

Nonetheless, I remain firmly convinced that live performance is the best way to experience opera.  Therefore I was delighted to have an opportunity a couple of nights ago to see a live opera (my first in about 10 years).

This was a performance of L’Egisto (or just plain Egisto according to many sources, though it was written with the article (l’) on the promo material for this production) by Francesco Cavalli, a baroque composer I’d not previously come across.  The performance was by members of Bangor University’s music department (none of them – yet, at least – professional opera singers) and took place at Penrallt Baptist Church in Bangor (they had done several performances at the Ucheldre Centre in Holyhead earlier in the week).

I was very impressed both with the standard of the performance and with the work itself.  One interesting feature was that, while the arias were all sung in the original Italian, much of the recitative was delivered in English;  in the absence of surtitles or a printed bilingual libretto this helped to keep the audience informed as to what was going on.  While I’m generally in favour of hearing works in their original language, I found this mixture to work very well and it definitely enabled me to get a better handle on the action than my rather limited knowledge of Italian would have allowed.

The opera had a fairly big cast of singers (about a dozen, I think, and there was a fair amount of doubling going on – in fact, I think at least a couple of the singers may have had as many as 3 roles).  The “orchestra”, by contrast, consisted only of a harpsichord and 3 violins (or possibly 2 violins and a viola, although they all looked the same size to me and there were no obvious sub-violin-range notes that I could hear, except from the harpsichord).

As far as I can make out, there are currently no commercially available recordings (audio or video) of the whole of L’Egisto, although there seems to have been one released a number of years ago on LP that is long out of print and a couple of arias are included on a compilation CD of arias by Cavalli (from several of his many operas) released by Naxos (which is available to listen to on Spotify – I have listened to the Egisto arias and a handful of the other ones on there).  So this trip to the opera may have been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hear this work.

I would definitely like to hear more of Cavalli’s work (including Egisto again, if a recording ever becomes available or I get another chance to see it live) and I’ll also be keeping an eye out for any more opera performances (baroque or otherwise) taking place within easy reach of home.



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