DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

CAVALLI: La Didone (complete opera), Blu-ray (2012)

Want to know what post-Monteverdi sounds like? Look no further.

Published on January 29, 2013

FRANCESCO CAVALLI: La Didone (complete opera), Blu-ray (2012) 

Anna Bonitatibus (Didone)/ Kresimir Spicer (Enea)/ Xavier Sabata (Iarba)/ Maria Streijffert (Ecuba)/ Katherine Watson (Cassandra)/ Les Arts Florissants/ William Christie
Director: Clément Hervieu-Léger
Producer: James Whitbourne
Studio: Opus Arte OA BD7106 D [Distr. by Naxos]
Video: 16:9 Color 1080p HD
Audio: PCM 2.0, DTS-HD MA 5.1
Subtitles: German, English, French
Extras: Cast Gallery
All Regions
Length: 176 minutes
Rating: ****

Let’s put it like this—if you like Baroque recitative, you will adore this opera. Actually my facetiousness is only partly insincere. Cavalli inherited the mantel of post-Monteverdi and ended up writing over 40 operas—his legacy is only beginning to be explored. But he did more than that; for those who love Monteverdi yet sometimes get frustrated by the continuous continuo and virtual lack of arias per se, Cavalli introduced an elementary form of the da capo aria. It is not as developed as we will find in Handel later on, but it’s enough to give a taste of a little more melodic refinement than we get in the early Baroque. Dramatically of course, the superb intricacy that makes Monteverdi run so well and seems so expressive resides primarily in the power and emotion-wedded brilliance of the text to his music. As time went on this form began to subside and give way instead to the broader and more generalized aria, while the recitative became simpler and more of a preparatory device for the aria. In this music we see a bit of both, though the aria is still in elemental form.

Cavalli was also not quite up the traditional sob-story ending of Dido, who in Purcell’s setting buys the farm in one of the greatest dramatic arias of all time. Curiously enough, there are hints of Purcell’s chromatic ground bass in some of the opera and it makes me wonder if he was familiar with Cavalli’s work; at any rate, the end of the opera has Dido (Didone) ending up accepting a marriage offering that she turned down at the beginning of the opera, and all seems well, if not a little contrived.

This live French performance is a real beauty. Virtually anything William Christie touches these days is, and the cast he has assembled is second to none with Anna Bonitatibus simply stunning in the title role. Though she is older than the opera makes her character out to be—as are all the singers generally—her portrayal finds the right balance between Queen and teen. The sets are simple but profoundly functional and nice to look at. Costumes are a generic “anytime” sort of presentation, not wedded specifically to the ancients or the modern, but simple enough to be construed as either if one allows some latitude in the imagination. There is much to admire in these three hours, and the music by and large sparkles away. I do wish that the skimpy notes were more specific in some of the character interactions, and the story can get confusing—I went to the web several times to try and clear things up. But this is not the fault of the performers, just the producers, and it is a minor one. If this period of music history interests you, this is a first rate production given in superb sound and a fine filmed manner.

—Steven Ritter

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