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A hit from 373 years ago

The Trinity-St. Paul Centre
02/15/2013 -  & February 16, 2013
Francesco Cavalli: Gli amori d’Apollo e di Dafne
Charles Daniels (Apollo), Katherine Hill (Dafne), Laura Pudwell (Venere/Procri/Muse), Michele DeBoer (Aurora), Bud Roach (Titone/Muse), Kevin Skelton (Cefalo/Pan), David Roth (Sonno/Giove), Dawn Bailey (Itatone/Filena/Muse), Meghan Moore (Amore), John Pepper (Panto/Peneo), Paul Jenkins (Morfeo)
David Fallis (Conductor)
The Toronto Consort

C. Daniels (© Hanya Chlala)

The Toronto Consort was founded 40 years ago at the dawning age of early music “boom” and they still manage to unearth intriguing rarities for local delectation. This time it is a big hit from 1640, Francesco Cavalli’s Gli amori d’Apollo e di Dafne (“The Loves of Apollo and Daphne”).

The title is misleading. It really ought to be “An eventful day amongst the gods and mortals”. Apollo is shown to have but one love (aside from the love affair with himself) and Daphne flees from any love entanglement whatsoever.

Aside from hearing a good performance of previously unknown music, other pleasures in attending a Toronto Consort evening include informative (but never ponderous) program notes and the complete libretto with which one can follow the action just as (so we are told) audiences did in the early days of opera.

The world’s first public opera house, the Teatro San Cassiano, opened in Venice in 1637. Cavalli was a partner in the venture and this was his second opera. The librettist was Giovanni Busenello who also wrote the libretto for Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea (1642), a work whose frank expressions of human emotions are startling even today. Gli amori d'Apollo e di Dafne is in similar vein.

After a prologue during which Sleep (Sonno) and his cohorts on Olympus welcome the dawn we meet its goddess, Aurora, who is having a quarrel with her lover, Tithonus. Some years before she had fallen for him, a handsome mortal, and managed to have him made immortal. However, she neglected to give him the eternal youth she possesses so now she is saddled with an elderly lover. She advises him to “bacia questi guanciali” (“kiss these pillows”) while she fills in for Apollo in riding the sun’s chariot that day. What she really wants to do is visit earth and her current lover, Cephalus, who has a wife, Procris, who is understandably distressed by all this.

(In another version of the myth Aurora turns her tiresome husband into a grasshopper; unfortunately this isn’t in Busenello’s libretto.)

At the same time on Mount Olympus, Venus expresses her annoyance with Apollo to Jupiter. (Apparently Apollo had informed her husband, Vulcan, about her dalliance with Mars.) Jupiter urges her to employ her son, Cupid, to get even with Apollo.

In the meantime lovely Daphne is cavorting through the fields of Thessaly where one Philena advises her to seize and enjoy the fruits of love. “Il Cielo to creò perché fosse il tuo fiore” (“Heaven created you so that your flower should be plucked”). Daphne recoils from such ideas.

We don’t meet Apollo until the start of Act II when he makes a dashing entrance and sings of the splendours of existence, himself chief among them. He encounters Cupid whom he disparages as a “nume pigmeo dell’ozio” (“pygmy divinity of laziness”). Cupid responds by firing an arrow (excellent musical moment here) and Apollo is instantly captivated by Daphne - who is instantly repulsed. The sun god mourns “la mia grandezza offesa” ("my offended greatness”). Daphne runs to her father, Peneus, who is actually a river (really!). He rescues her from Apollo by turning her into a laurel tree.

Apollo then sings a lengthy lament which takes him through several stages of grief. Bratty Cupid reappears to mock him some more. Apollo then meets up with Pan who shares a similar experience: the one he loved, Syrinx, transformed herself into reeds with which he made his trademark panpipes. This inspires Apollo to exalt Daphne by using laurel leaves to fashion a crown - the crown of laurels, famous to this day.

The two vocal highlights of the work are the laments: that of Procris when she mourns the unfaithfulness of her husband, and that of Apollo when he mourns the loss of Daphne. Laura Pudwell, a Consort regular who always delivers in spades, does full justice to Procris, just as earlier in the act she expressed the petulance of Venus. Guest artist Charles Daniel, whose peripatetic career has brought him to Toronto several times, seems a bit dry of voice in his opening measures, but when Apollo’s introductory scene goes into the first arioso section his voice opens out expressively.

David Fallis, playing the chamber organ, conducts the 13-member orchestral ensemble with his usual aplomb. Charlotte Nediger (harpsichordist with the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra) devised the version used. Fallis and textual consultant Guillaume Bernardi have made discreet cuts to the score. One role is eliminated as a result, that of Cirilla, who counters the arguments of Philena and urges Daphne to remain virginal. I can see that the role is redundant since Daphne is determined to remain virginal anyway. This keeps the running time under two hours.

A standout among the many roles is Bud Roach as Tithonous, the cast-off elderly lover of Aurora. His voice is arguably too youthful for the role, but his delivery of every syllable is an object lesson in the haute-contre fach. In similar vein is Kevin Skelton as Cephalus and Pan. Michele DeBoer is a forthright Aurora, and Meghan Moore a sparky, mischievous Cupid.

The singers all use scores (understandably) but do not bury their faces in them. It’s not all poker-faced concertizing, but follows what seems to be usual practice these days with facial and bodily expression. Katherine Hill (Daphne) stands out in this respect. Overall the performance reflects the work’s combination of the heartfelt and the satirical.

Upcoming treats from the Toronto Consort: concerts in April feature Dame Emma Kirkby, and in May a program with projected images featuring women composers of the Middle Ages, Renaissance and early baroque.

Michael Johnson



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