Cavarzere Opera Festival 2021 Review: Le Grazie Vendicate

Caldara’s Dormant Opera Chosen To Inaugurate New Festival

By Alan Neilson
(Photo: Concetto Armonico)

Cavarzere is a small town set in the Veneto countryside in North-East Italy, with a population of less than 15,000. One of its claims to fame is that the conductor Tulio Serafin was born in the nearby hamlet of Rottanova, and the local theatre is named in his honor.

Now Andrea Castello, also a local resident, who is the artistic director of Vicenza in Lirica has plans to establish the Cavarzere Opera Festival in tribute to the great maestro, and to this end has organized a small festival spanning one month, consisting of three presentations, which will include a concert of opera arias entitled “Vissi d’arte” followed by A. Scarlatti’s “Stabat Mater” and Vivaldi’s “Quattro Stagioni.” The festival, however, began with a performance of Antoni Caldara’s dramma per musica “Le Grazie Vendicate,” a production recently premiered at Vicenza in Lirica, which also happened to be its first performance in modern times.

It was written in 1735 to a text by Metastasio, to celebrate the birthday of Elisabeth, wife of the Austrian Emperor, and performed in the private royal apartments in Vienna. Lasting less than an hour, it relates the mythological tale of Talia, Eufrosine, and Aglaja, also known as the three Graces, and the revenge they take upon Venus, who they blame for the behavior of her son Cupid, whom she allows to wreak havoc on people’s lives, including their own, by firing his arrows of love into their hearts. The Graces, dedicated to harmony, peace, and friendship decide to raise Elisabeth to be the new goddess of love and in doing so bring shame on Venus.

Giurgola’s Fine Direction Brings A Simple Narrative To Life

It is a very simple narrative in which little happens. The main drama revolves around the Graces complaining about Cupid’s antics, and the decoration of the new goddess Elisabeth. Musically, it is divided between recitatives and arias, one each for Talia and Aglaja and two for Eufrosine, and concludes with a short choral finale. With such a thin plot, and notwithstanding the quality of Caldara’s music, the director Rosangela Giurgola had to be fairly imaginative to keep the audience’s attention focused on the stage.

Originally, Giurgola had devised her interpretation for its premiere in the gardens of Vicenza’s Teatro Olimpico, in which she could take advantage of the greenery and delightful flowers, as well as the wonderful edifice of the old theatre. As it happened, it transferred easily to the small stage of Cavarzere’s theatre, which was bedecked with flowers. Having the musical quartet seated on the stage also added to the intimacy of the presentation.

Nor did Giurgola lack the necessary imagination to bring the narrative alive, in what was a colorful, elegant staging full of movement, underpinned by an interesting reading of the text and supported by the excellent costume designs of Daniela Boscato. Giurgola’s focus was on the political context of the time in which “Le Grazie Vendicate” was written, a time when Austria was and would become further embroiled in a series of bloody wars, in which violent passions were given free rein, and Man became distracted from peace and prosperity. In response, the Graces weave their white flowers of peace and inaugurate a new god. It was a clever interpretation and worked well. The Graces were dressed in red, symbolizing the blood of mortals that runs so freely when Cupid’s arrows, now tipped with a poison that allows the passions to run uninhibited, enter men’s hearts. The new goddess from the river Ganges is a god of peace, symbolized by her costume which was white with a rainbow skirt.

Giurgola’s choreography was also aptly developed, with the Graces frequently taking up poses as depicted in the works of great artists over the centuries. Often, their movement was very lyrical in its conception in which they also occasionally performed simple but elegant dances. The bedecking of the new goddess with flowers was beautifully done so that she became the center of attention, her elevation clearly displayed.

The Three Graces

Soprano Claudia Urru was parted as Eufrosine, the Grace who precipitates the drama with her anger and irritation at Cupid’s disruptive behavior. She produced a convincing portrait, in which she neatly crafted recitatives were delivered with emotional strength while showing off her attractive timbre to good effect. In her first aria “Tacer, soffrire!” she successfully displayed her determination to punish Venus in which her expressive and agile phrasing impressed. Her final aria “Colla Tromba degli’Eroi…” was delivered in a joyous spirit in which her pleasing coloratura was a delight.

Soprano Maddalena De Biasi caught the attention as Talia with a lively performance in which she charmed the audience with her infectious stage presence. She showed herself to be finely attuned to the subtleties of her character, which was reflected in her facial expressions and physical gestures. Her singing was equally pleasing. Her recitatives were animated, inflected with subtle coloring and accented with well-placed emphases. Her aria “Io, Io so, lo veggo anch’io” displayed her voice to good effect, in which she adorned the vocal line with neat embellishment, and displayed no small amount of versatility.

The trio was completed by soprano Barbara Massaro who was cast as the third Grace, Aglaja. She too produced an energetic performance and was fully engaged with her character, in which her ability to develop dramatically sensitive passages of recitatives was notable. Her aria “Si ma non dura” in which she explains her more forgiving attitude towards Cupid was pleasingly rendered with intelligently crafted phrasing, although by comparison, her coloratura was a little wild, which undermined her presentation slightly.

The Ensemble Barocco Arbor Musica consisting of violin, viola, cello, and harpsichord from which musical director Carlo Steno Rossi managed the proceedings produced an attractive accompaniment that caught the elegance and gracefulness of the staging and was successful in promoting the dramatic nuances of the drama.

It proved to be an enjoyable way of spending an early Sunday evening. “Le Grazie Vendicate” is certainly not a ground-shattering work, but it is a pleasant piece that had enough to delight the audience. It was presented with three good singers who, supported by fine playing from the ensemble gave Caldara’s dormant score a fine performance.

It was, however, Guirgola’s impressive direction that was largely responsible for its success. She took what is a simple, and in many ways uninteresting narrative, which could have easily led to a dull theatrical experience, and successfully brought it to life.

It was in conclusion, a fine, low-key start for the budding Cavarzere Opera Festival, but as they say from small acorns…


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