Lewd tale of cross-dressing gods at Geneva opera

Wed Apr 14, 2010 2:09pm EDT
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By Jonathan Lynn

GENEVA (Reuters) - A new production in Geneva of one of the earliest operas, La Calisto, camps up the lewd tale of cross-dressing gods while remaining faithful to the authentic sound of early music.

The opera, first performed in 1651, tells how the king of the gods, Jove, disguises himself as Diana, goddess of chastity and hunting, to seduce one of her beautiful nymphs, Calisto.

In the production by German director Philipp Himmelmann that opened on Tuesday, the acting is camp, costumes are ornate and there is a general sense of excess -- in a word, it is baroque.

In the opening prologue, Nature, Eternity and Destiny appear as chubby Renaissance cherubs, waddling around the stage like the Teletubbies. Jove's cynical companion and adviser Mercury looks like a Goth out of the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Besides Jove's ruse -- which requires the bass singer to switch to falsetto when in disguise -- the opera provides plenty of opportunities for sexual confusion.

Diana herself is admired by a shepherd, Endymion, a role written for castrato, and here sung by American counter-tenor Bejun Mehta. Jove is forced to beat a hasty retreat when Endymion comes across him in disguise and starts to woo him.

Another of Diana's followers, the aging nymph Linfea, yearns for a husband to taste the joys of love but is sung by a tenor while pursued by a randy little satyr played by a mezzo-soprano.

TIMELESS BEAUTY   Continued...

<p>Cast member Jove, playing by Finnish bass Sami Luttinen, accompanied by Mercury, playing by Bruno Taddia perform Pier Francesco Cavalli's Baroque opera La Calisto at Geneva opera house in this undated handout photo. REUTERS/Grand Theatre de Geneve/Vincent Lepresle/Handout</p>