Hipermestra, Glyndebourne 2017

Review Round-Up: Hipermestra / Glyndebourne

Susannah Clap marks 20 years of being a theatre critic in the Observer today, in which she concludes on the ongoing need for critics “to speak up for the not-yet-popular and the supposedly past it.

Here’s a round-up of what reviewers made of Glyndebourne’s production of Cavalli’s opera Hipermestra.

First, the Daily Express with an efficient synopsis.

“The tale is based on the Greek myth in which the 50 daughters of Argos’s King Danao are compelled on the wedding night to murder their bridegrooms – the 50 sons of Danao’s brother Egitto because Danao believes an oracle’s prediction that a nephew is to kill him.

Only the King’s eldest daughter, Hipermestra, defies his orders and helps her husband, Linceo, to escape. For this she is imprisoned by her father and suffers numerous indignities.”

Was Hipermestra an undiscovered gem? What’s On Stage (in what amounts to the most accessibly written review) had this warning.

“For an opera to languish unheard for centuries it must be pretty bad, you’d think. But Hipermestra, forgotten since 1680 until its recent rediscovery, turns out to be a jewel of the baroque. Though not one you can hum along to.”

Most reviews commented positively on designer Stuart Nunn’s investment. This from the Guardian.

“Designer Stuart Nunn and lighting designer Giuseppe Di Iorio have spared no shock-and-awe impact in this elaborate set, with its combat vehicles, shiny Mercedes car, oil derricks and a final scene of devastation straight from any current war zone.”

Rupert Christiansen in The Telegraph gave the product four of five stars.

“Graham Vick’s staging is brilliantly slick. Using the “immersive” techniques he has honed with his work for Birmingham Opera Company, he opportunistically updates the scenario to a modern-day Gulf State where the mass wedding is set to be a big fat eat-your-heart-out affair – brides and grooms wander around the gardens before the show and a massive iced cake dominates the stage.”

The Express saw something different.

“One senses a hint of desperation in the director/designer team at the on-stage petrol pumps and limousine as Linceo marshals an army to attack Argos. An invading army truck gets wrecked and bursts into flames. Behind a wire barrier are pumping oil derricks, to remind us of a root cause of Middle East conflict today.”

Bachtrack concluded positively on Cavalli’s work.

As long as one doesn’t come with the expectations of Baroque arias à la Handel and are able to enjoy beautifully unfolding recitatives supported by endlessly imaginative playing, one is in for a treat.

The Independent (amongst others) flagged the performances of note.

“One is left with some glorious memories, notably Raffaelle Pe’s haut-contre purity, Benjamin Hullett’s vibrant tenor, Renato Dolcini’s baritonal warmth, Ermoke Barath’s soprano steel, Ana Quintans’s soprano sweetness, and the hilarious lord-of-misrule antics of Mark Wilde’s Berenice, here a dead ringer for Baba the Turk.”

So too Culture Whisper.

“Amid universally excellent singing, there are exceptional performances from the Portuguese soprano Ana Quintans as Hipermestra’s companion Elisa, notable for her range of colour and beautiful phrasing, Italian counter-tenor Raffaele Pe as the saved husband Linceo, the Hungarian soprano Emöke Baráth in the title role, British tenor Benjamin Hulett as the jealous Arbante, and Italian baritone Renato Dolcini as feeble Danao.”

The Guardian‘s comment sums up the universally appreciated contribution members of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment gave the production.

“It was, however, the 10 exceptional players in the pit – including Christie and the peerless lutenist Elizabeth Kenny – who gave this music pulse and vitality. Dressed in generic Middle Eastern attire, these members of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment were at times required to join the singers on stage. The two violins, Kati Debretzeni (leader) and Huw Daniel, negotiated a couple of fast-moving duets while ducking the action: some feat.”

David Mellor writing for The Daily Mail seemed unconvinced.

“Sadly, the money has been wasted, in a production I doubt will ever be revived. Something simpler would surely have done just as well. And maybe the left-over money could have been used to subsidise the seats for the young newcomers that Glyndebourne so sorely needs.”

Rupert Christiansen went a little further.

“If only the opera wasn’t such a colossal bore, offering barely five minutes of truly melodic arioso (most of it for Hipermestra herself) in its punishing 130-minute first half and only an exquisite quartet to lighten up the second. The remainder merely grinds through the stock formulas and cadences of Venetian baroque without any variation of pace or mood: for all the cosmetic surgery, the corpse remains inanimate.”

Hipermestra runs at Glyndebourne until Saturday 8 July 2017

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