Cavalli’s Elena in Lille

Lucky Lille, to have the possibility of importing, for three performances, last year’s Aix Festival’s production of Cavalli’s Elena. In apparently its first revival since its creation in 1659, this piece demonstrated again Cavalli’s prowess as a lively reinterpreter of ancient legend. As Helen is courted, abducted and seduced by several suitors, we learn much about the power of love and desire. In no way monotonous, Cavalli’s score reveals a remarkable diversity of style and much inventiveness. A fine body of young singers had been assembled, amongst which Giuseppina Bridelli as Hippolita and Krzysztof Baczyk in two smaller roles deserve particular praise for their dramatic intensity and vocal mastery of the idiom. Also most impressive were the instrumentalists of the Ensemble Cappella Mediterranea under the direction of Leonardo Garcia Alarcón.

The production by Jean-Yves Ruf with its simple decor (designer Laure Pichat) – some symbolic features surrounding a performing arena where the games of love take place – was elegant and visually pleasing, avoiding excesses of movement and comic interplay. Astute lighting effects provided a focus for the dramatic action and induced the audience to engage emotionally in the predicament of the protagonists. So convincing was the dramatic interpretation of Menelaus that, in sustaining the gender ambiguity, we really did wonder until Kangmin Justin Kim stripped off his shirt whether he was a man or woman. The piece involved a complex plot and could have been pruned somewhat. But the evening proved again that Venetian opera of this period, when performed with style and conviction, can generate outstanding musical theatre.