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Opera Profile: Cavalli's Giasone

Duration:
1 hour
First broadcast:
Sunday 30 May 2010

As part of the "Opera on the BBC" season, the Early Music Show begins a monthly series celebrating baroque opera, with Catherine Bott looking at Francesco Cavalli's "Giasone". The work was the only collaboration between playwright and librettist Giacinto Andrea Cicognini and Cavalli - one of the great musical pioneers of the genre. Giasone became the most frequently performed opera of the 17th century and took its plot from the Greek myth of Jason and his search for the Golden Fleece. Catherine Bott introduces the background and musical highlights to the work and talks to the conductor, René Jacobs and the counter-tenor Michael Chance, who sang the eponymous role of Giasone, in the recording of the opera from the 1980s, about the merits of Cavalli as an operatic composer.

Music Played

7 items
Timings (where shown) are from the start of the programme in hours and minutes
  • Image for Francesco Cavalli

    Francesco Cavalli Sinfonia from 'Giasone'

    Performers: Concerto Vocale, René Jacobs (conductor)

    HARMONIA MUNDI, HMC 901282/84

  • Image for Francesco Cavalli

    Francesco Cavalli Combattimento (Act 2 Scene 5) from 'Giasone'

    Performers: Concerto Vocale, René Jacobs (conductor)

    HARMONIA MUNDI, HMC 901282/84

  • Image for Francesco Cavalli

    Francesco Cavalli Delizie, contenti from Act 1 Scene 2 of 'Giasone'

    Performers: Michael Chance (countertenor), Concerto Vocale, René Jacobs (conductor)

    HARMONIA MUNDI, HMC 901282/84

  • Image for Francesco Cavalli

    Francesco Cavalli Act 1 Scene 6 – duet between Demo and Oreste – from 'Giasone'

    Performers: Gianpaolo Fagotto (tenor), Bernard Deletré (bass), Concerto Vocale, René Jacobs (conductor)

    HARMONIA MUNDI, HMC 901282/84

  • Image for Francesco Cavalli

    Francesco Cavalli Medea's Magic Chamber (Act 1 Scene 14) – from 'Giasone'

    Performers: Gloria Banditelli (mezzo-soprano), Concerto Vocale, René Jacobs (conductor)

    HARMONIA MUNDI, HMC 901282/84

  • Image for Francesco Cavalli

    Francesco Cavalli Act 2 Scene 1 from 'Giasone'

    Performers: Catherine Dubosc (soprano), Agnes Mellon (soprano), Concerto Vocale, René Jacobs (conductor)

    HARMONIA MUNDI, HMC 901282/84

  • Image for Francesco Cavalli

    Francesco Cavalli Final scene of Act 3 from 'Giasone'

    Performers: Michael Chance (countertenor), Concerto Vocale, René Jacobs (conductor)

    HARMONIA MUNDI, HMC 901282/84

  • Biography of Francesco Cavalli

    (born 14th February 1602; died 14th January 1676)

    The Italian composer Pietro Francesco Cavalli was a pupil of Monteverdi and succeeded his teacher at St Mark’s. Though remembered chiefly as an operatic composer, he also wrote a considerable amount of church music.

    Cavalli was the son of Gian Battista Caletti-Bruni, director of the choir of Crema Cathedral – he took his name from his patron Federigo Cavalli, a Venetian nobleman. He became a singer in St Mark’s Choir under Monteverdi in 1617, became second organist in 1640, first organist in 1665 and ‘Maestro di cappella’ in 1668. Some church music survives in two publications: the ‘Musiche sacre’, published by Vincenti Venice in 1656, containing the ‘Magnificat’, the ‘Messa concertata’, and various psalms and antiphons; and the Vespers collection of 1675.

    Cavalli wrote at least 41 operas. Three in particular were outstandingly successful and were frequently revived: ‘Giasone’ (1649), ‘Serse’ (1654) and ‘Ercole amante’ (1662). The last two were performed in France; ‘Ercole amante’ was in fact commissioned to celebrate the inauguration of the hall of Tuileries. Cavalli’s operas are remarkable for their melodic invention, though there are few extended arias. Rather, he relied on a melodic arioso interspersed with with arias to maintain dramatic movement. This gives Cavalli a great dramatic unity which was lacking in the works of his predecessors, as was Cavalli’s other outstanding feature, his ability to match the climax of the action with a strong musical climax.

  • List of characters in "Giasone"

    Apollo
    Amore (Cupid)
    Giasone (Jason), leader of the Argonauts
    Medea, Queen of Colchis
    Delfa, her nurse
    Ercole (Hercules), an Argonaut
    Besso, Captain of Jason’s Guard
    Rosmina, a gardener
    Egeo (Aegeus), King of Athens
    Demo, his servant, a hunchback
    Isifile (Hypsipyle), Queen of Lemnos
    Alinda, her lady-in-waiting
    Oreste (Orestes), Hypsipyle’s confidant
    Volano, a spirit
    Chorus of winds and spirits
    Argonauts, gods, soldiers and sailors

  • Synopsis of the opera

    ‘Giasone’ is an opera in three acts and a prologue with music by Cavalli and a libretto by Giacinto Andrea Cicognini. The plot is loosely based on the story of Jason and the golden fleece. The prologue features the gods Apollo and Cupid debating the outcome of the forthcoming drama, with Apollo favouring Medea, and Cupid her rival, Hypsipyle, in their fight to secure Jason’s affections. Jason and his crew of Argonauts have been spending time on the island of Colchis, and Jason has fathered twins with Medea, though he is unaware of her identity. Medea persuades Jason to agree to marry her, and invokes magic powers to aid Jason in his quest for the fleece. Meanwhile, Hypsipyle, who is already betrothed to Jason and is mother of his twin sons, has despatched her confidant Oreste to search for Jason.

    In Act 2, Hypsipyle learns of Jason’s infidelity and resolves to kill Medea. Helped by Medea, Jason successfully captures the golden fleece, and then they flee together to Corinth on Jason’s ship, the Argo, pursued by Medea’s rejected lover, Aegeus. Hipsipyle catches up with Jason and reminds him that he has promised to marry her, however he pretends she is a deluded madwoman, and goes off with Medea.

    In Act 3, Hipsipyle finds Jason and Medea sleeping and wakes Jason up, to ask him again to come back to her. Jason agrees if she will leave without disturbing Medea, but Medea wakes up and overhears this, and makes Jason promise to have Hipsipyle killed. Jason tells Hipsipyle that as a password for an audience with him she should ask Besso whether Jason’s orders have been carried out; on hearing this question, Besso is ordered by Jason to throw the questioner into the sea. However, Medea decides to check that her rival has been killed and so asks this same question, which results in Besso throwing Medea into the sea. Fortunately, Aegeus appears to save her, and promises to avenge Medea by killing Jason. Jason is now overcome with remorse as he assumes that Hipsipyle is dead, and is about to be stabbed by Aegeus when Hipsipyle appears and intervenes. Medea also re-appears and now that she is reunited with Aegeus, encourages Jason to return to Hipsipyle. The opera ends with everyone happy again.

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