Jean-Yves Ruf’s production of Francesco Cavalli’s Elena, recorded during the 2013 Aix-en-Provence Festival, does an exemplary job of bringing this long-neglected score from 1659 to theatrical life. Laure Pichat’s sets are suggestive rather than representational, and the scene-changes are ingeniously managed. Claudia Jenatsch’s effective costumes, a slightly bedraggled take on seventeenth- and eighteenth-century garb, don’t distance us from the action, as historical outfits might, but do avoid the ordinariness of modern dress. And Ruf has elicited from his strong cast alert dramatic performances, marked by believable relationships and effective reactions in the moment. The opera’s duration — nearly three hours, even with some cuts — becomes a powerful, persuasive emotional journey, movingly culminating in the final quartet.
The singing is mostly excellent — expressive and even of line, with an apparent spontaneity in the melismatic flourishes. And everyone’s delivery of the Italian text, especially the recitatives, flows naturally. Emöke Baráth (Elena) and Valer Barna-Sabadus (Menelao) are particularly heartfelt in their duets, even when the equal part-writing puts the latter’s countertenor above Baráth’s soprano. Also noteworthy are Fernando Guimarães (Teseo), whose tenor rings out with vibrancy and depth; Solenn’ Lavanant Linke (Ippolita), who at intense moments isn’t afraid to let chest resonance into her voice; and Majdouline Zerari (Erginda), whose mezzo timbre is refreshing in an early-music production. The various countertenors besides Barna-Sabadus — Rodrigo Ferreira (Peritoo) and Christopher Lowrey (Polluce and Euripilo) — are firm and assured, though all have weaker moments in the low range. Scott Conner (Tindaro) and Brendan Tuohy (Creonte) move their voices stiffly, but they, too, are musical and quick. Emiliano Gonzalez Toro’s comic portrayal of Iro is exaggerated, but when he’s not mugging, he sings well.
The production’s success also owes much to Leonardo García Alarcón’s musical direction, responsive to both the lively, dance-y elements and the moments of lyrical depth. The shifts among arioso, aria and ensemble are seamless; the various brief vocal ensembles — including trios, quartets and even a quintet — are deftly shipshape. The eleven-member Capella Mediterranea responds with full, expressive sounds.
If I haven’t discussed the videography, that’s because it flows as unobtrusively as the music, generally following the principals, taking in reactions as appropriate and never imposing itself on the viewer. The overhead shot of the orchestra near the end of Act II is a nice touch.
Leonardo García Alarcón music director
Jean-Yves Ruf stage director
Laure Pichat set designer
Claudia Jenatsch costumes
Christian Dubet lighting
Valer Barna-Sabadus (Menelao)
Fernando Guimaraes (Teseo)
Solenn' Lavanant Linke (Ippolita, Pallade)
Rodrigo Ferreira (Peritoo)
Emiliano Gonzalez Toro (Iro)
Anna Reinhold (Menesto, La Pace)
Scott Conner (Tindaro, Nettuno)
Mariana Flores (Erginda, Giunone, Castore)
Majdouline Zerari (Eurite, La Verita)
Brendan Tuohy (Diomede, Creonte)
Christopher Lowrey (Euripilo, La Discordia, Polluce)
Job Tomé (Antiloco)
Movie director : Corentin Leconte
Duration : 02 h 59 min