In Review > North America

La Calisto

NEW YORK CITY
Juilliard Opera
2/17/16

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Jacob Thoman, Alexander McKissick and Sean Lammer, with mezzo Samantha Hankey and countertenor Jakub Józef Orliński in Juilliard Opera's production of Cavalli's La Calisto
© Rosalie O'Connor Photography
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Julia Wolcott as Giunone
© Rosalie O'Connor Photography
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Angela Vallone as Calisto
© Rosalie O'Connor Photography

JUILLIARD OPERA'S presentation of Cavalli and Faustini’s La Calisto at the Rosemary and Meredith Willson Theater (seen Feb. 17) was one of the most elegant and imaginative shows that New York has enjoyed this season. The witty, adroit stagecraft of Zack Winokur, who directed and choreographed the opera, was perfectly scaled for the chamber-sized dimensions of the Willson Theater, which seats less than 100. The movement throughout was well-pointed and surpassingly graceful, whether executed by the energetic singers of Juilliard Opera or the quartet of accomplished “ringers” from Juilliard Dance; the various moments of comedy and pathos were achieved with rigorous honesty and the jokes were genuinely funny. Winokur delivered the tangled mythological narrative with perfect clarity but without updating the action: the ancient story of gods, goddesses, nymphs and shepherds in libidinous pursuit of one another remained consistently engaging for the entire evening. There were no dull spots—the staging was superbly paced—nor were there any pesky anachronisms on view. The design team achieved miracles of economy and imagination, chief among them the scenic elements devised by the firm of Charlap Hyman and Herrero, which suggested a moonlit forest grove, a starlit sky, and the multi-doored interior of a classic farce, all lit with clear-eyed cool by Marcus Doshi. Austin Scarlett’s costumes showed off the characters’ ripe sexuality without ever resorting to vulgarity; the most spectacular ensemble was the ravishing gold dress designed for the goddess Giunone, which covered the entire stage and allowed mezzo Julia Wolcott (with the under-skirt assistance of three heroically limber young dancers) to appear airborne.

Stephen Stubbs, who was credited with Winokur as having “arranged and adapted” the piece for this performance, conducted the musicians of Juilliard415 in an aptly supple, sexy performance; the heavenly contours of “Lucidissima face,” Endimione’s song to the moon, were shaped with unerring style and surety and the last ensemble of the second act was exquisitely performed. The Endimione, Polish countertenor Jakub Jósef Orlinski, was the most striking singer in the eager young cast. A skillful actor with a handsome face and figure, Orlinski has a congenially boyish presence; the role of the shepherd who pines for the goddess Diana gave Orlinski few opportunities for the florid music that is evidently his specialty, but he phrases with professional-quality musicality and intelligence if not (as of yet) a truly integrated command of legato. He is clearly an artist to watch. Also impressive was his Diana, Samantha Hankey, the most ingenious and economical actor in the cohort of ten singers. A square-shouldered beauty with a maple-flavored mezzo, Hankey was able to indicate with admirable subtlety when she was meant to be the “real” Diana and when she was meant to be the god Giove disguised as Diana. Hankey attacked her “angry” music without sounding harsh or forced and was a lusciously pliant partner in her love scene (as Diana) with Endimione, as well as in her coupling (as Giove in Diana) with the toothsome Calisto of Angela Vallone. 

The other singers in the cast were not as finished as Orlinski and Hankey—there were a fair amount of intonation problems throughout the evening—but everyone performed with abundant commitment, palpable generosity and a genuine sense of ensemble, a testament to the leadership of their director/choreographer and the cohesive power of their school community.  —F. Paul Driscoll 

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