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A Venetian delight

Trinity-St Paul’s Centre
05/12/2017 -  & May 13, 14, 2017
Francesco Cavalli: Elena
Michelle DeBoer (Elena), Kevin Skelton (Menelao), Cory Knight (Teseo), Vicki St Pierre (Peritoo), Bud Roach (Iro), Katherine Hill (Menesteo), Laura Pudwell (Ippolita), Andrew Walker (Diomede, Antiloco), John Pepper (Tindaro/Creonte), Emma Hannan (Castore), Veronika Anissimova (Polluce)
The Toronto Consort, David Fallis (conductor), Guillaume Bernardi (literary and textual consultant)

(© Paul Orenstein)

The Toronto Consort’s performance of Francesco Cavalli’s Elena was billed as Helen of Troy, which is not quite right. It is about THAT Helen, but concerns itself with the piquant circumstances that led up to her marriage to Menelaus some time before the Trojan prince entered her eventful life.

The work’s other title is Il rapimento d’Helena - “The Kidnapping of Helen”. This is appropriate. The Greek hero Theseus is so enamoured of the young Helen that he kidnaps her while his pal, Pirithous, kidnaps Helen’s wrestling partner, the beautiful Amazon Elisa. They take refuge in the palace of King Creon, where his son, Menestheus, promptly falls in love with the irresistable Helen as well. However Elisa is none other than Menelaus posing as an Amazon in order to gain access to you-know-who. Just to complicate matters, Hyppolita, who is betrothed to Theseus, comes to track him down. Helen’s twin brothers, Castor and Pollux, possessors of the golden fleece arrive, to rescue their sister. Commenting on all this is the Spartan court buffoon, Iro, doubling as a minstrel.

Helen is thus besieged by three swains, one of whom tries to murder another, while another is in drag. O the curse of beauty!

Michelle DeBoer sparkles as Helen, as does Cory Knight as Theseus, and Bud Roach (almost stealing the show) as Iro. It is a pity that Kevin Skelton’s attractive voice fails to soar in key moments, as when Menelaus declares his love for Helen (knowing she overhears) while he pretends to sleep. Emma Hannan and Veronika Anissimova are adorable as the twin brothers. Vicki St Pierre as Pirithous epitomizes wounded dignity when it is revealed that the object of his affection is actually a man. Laura Pudwell gives yet another cherishable performance as the conflicted, yet ultimately triumphant, Hyppolita.

Throughout the work characters sing passionate love songs which are soon cruelly (but joyously) mocked. At one point Hyppolita sings of her love for Theseus while knowing he has a roving eye (to say the least). At the same time she admits that she enjoys her anguish. We call this kind of self-aware irony “post-modern”, but they seem to have mastered it in Venice in 1659. When delivered with the Consort’s usual bonhomie audience delight is guaranteed.

Consort founder/director David Fallis devised this edition based on Kristen Kane’s transcription. About an hour of music was cut, including the prologue. There were no gaps in the continuity so no harm done.

This is the fourth Cavalli opera the Toronto Consort has presented. I eagerly anticipate more.

Michael Johnson



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