The god Jove’s job description surely includes something besides donning disguises and wooing earthly maidens, but you’d never know it from going to the opera. Over the centuries, the king of the gods’ amorous adventures have kept many an opera house humming.
An early example of the operatic complications a god’s wandering eye can cause is Francesco Cavalli’s 1651 charmer La Calisto, which glittered anew Saturday night in a lively and engaging performance by Dell’Arte Opera Ensemble.
The developmental company’s cast of young singers, supported by a superb period-instrument ensemble led by lutenist Charles Weaver, artfully mingled comedy and tender sentiment as the opera’s nearly three-hour duration seemed to fly by.
Indeed, three hours barely seemed enough time to weave and untangle the tale of the wood nymph and archer Callisto—follower of the goddess Diana, object of Jove’s lust, turned into a bear by Jove’s jealous wife Juno, and eventually installed in the heavens as, what else, the constellation Ursa Major—and the various amorous schemes and frustrations of a supporting cast of gods, nymphs, satyrs and a poet, and then to sing about it.
Happily, in the intimate black-box space of La MaMa on East 4th Street, the singer-actors could deliver naturally phrased recitative shading into arioso—Cavalli’s fluidity in this regard has been compared to Wagner’s—without severe vocal effort. The virtuosity was less in high notes than in the exuberant roulades on one syllable that blossomed at moments of high emotion, an ancient and mostly lost art that at least some of Saturday’s cast seemed to have rediscovered.
As Callisto, soprano Marie Marquis projected the young archer’s innocence with a touch of fluttery vibrato and graceful movement onstage. Portraying a character more acted upon than acting, Marquis…