Francesco Cavalli (1602-1676) wrote this opera for the wedding of Louis XIV to Maria Theresa of Spain in 1660. But the performance had to be delayed as the theatre was not completed in time, and when it was eventually presented, the piece was heavily undermined by the talkative French audience and the Lully clique.
Notwithstanding all this "travail", the opera was considered the greatest extravaganza of its day, although the story is hardly fitting for a wedding feast. Ercole is constantly striving to banish his wife Deianira and kill his son Hyllo so that he can marry his sister-in-law Jole. Juno, the goddess of marriage intervenes, and husband and wife are finally reunited, although at the end it is a case of too little too late. Luca Pisaroni is commandingly vigorous, especially in his man-made plastic muscles, and his performance is wholly assured, but it is the female singers Anna Maria Panzarella and Anna Bonitatibus that steal all the thunder. Indeed, their renditions are constantly sensitive to the harmonic content of the music, and the many "embellishment" passages are handled with versatility and imagination.
An expert in this kind of repertoire, Ivor Bolton marshalls his forces with aplomb, and although his conducting is sympathetic to the singers, he keeps things moving along a brisk pace. The production is engaging on all fronts; stage, scenery, choreography, singing, dancing, acting and costumes in particular all contribute magnificently to this opulent venture which I recommend wholeheartedly, particularly to baroque aficionados. Sound and vision are in the level of excellence we have come to expect nowadays.
Copyright © 2010, Gerald Fenech.