Q & A: Mary Bevan on Her Bayerische Staatsoper Debut in Cavalli’s ‘Calisto’

By Francisco Salazar
Photo: Victoria Cadisch

On Mar. 19, 2023, soprano Mary Bevan will make her Bayerische Staatsoper debut, singing the role of Calisto in Cavalli’s “La Calisto.” The opera’s libretto, written by Giovanni Faustini, is based on Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” (book two) and retells the myth of Calisto and Jupiter.

Bevan’s repertoire is loaded with baroque, from Monteverdi to Gluck, with lots of Handel and a fair amount of Bach in between. OperaWire spoke with Bevan about her upcoming debut.

OperaWire: What excites you about making your Bayerische Staatsoper debut?

Mary Bevan: I always love going to a new house, exploring a new city, and getting my teeth into a new piece of music, and this project ticks all those boxes. It may seem mad to say this, but I’m excited about the short amount of time we have to put the show together. Normally there are 5 weeks or so to put together a production of this complexity, and sometimes that can make things move slowly. I like the pressure of having to learn something very quickly and throw it together – it gives the days a pace and energy that gives me the challenge that I crave in my work.

OW: Why is making your debut with “La Calisto” special, and what does this opera mean to you?

MB: I often play the role of the ‘second woman,’ and in the last few operas I’ve done (“Alcina,” “Fidelio,” and “Serse,” for instance), this has been the case. Taking on the title role will take me out of my comfort zone and push me into the leading lady arena, somewhere I hope to be more often in the coming seasons! I have only ever sung bits of this opera once, a long time ago, in a concert performance, so I can’t say the piece means anything to me right now, but it will in the future. I’ll say this was the role in which I made my debut at Bayerische Staatsoper!

OW: Tell me about “La Calisto” and its music. How does Cavalli’s music work for your voice?

MB: It is wonderful to sing; it sits very easily in the voice. It’s mostly made up of quite freely-sung recitativo, with some ‘arioso’ moments of stunning beauty that are over before they’ve begun. The piece moves quickly; it’s almost like a play in that way. That’s why it lends itself so well to fast-paced staging; a lot changes in a short amount of time. The role of Calisto works well for me; it sits low and then rises high in moments of sadness, joy, or desperation for the character. There is a lot of freedom tempo-wise, and so I find I can push and pull the music more than I would do in most other repertoire. Therefore, I can be as expressive as I like.

OW: Coming off of working on Handel, how does Cavalli’s music compare?

MB: There is just a lot more freedom in Cavalli. Because the phrases themselves are more simple stylistically, it gives me the freedom to use my body in more challenging ways without worrying about when I’m going to breathe or how I’m going to pace myself for the whole aria, as I would with Handel.

OW: What are the biggest challenges when singing this role?

MB: I would say David Alden’s production itself is the biggest challenge about this role. There are complicated dance moves and lots of rolling around on the floor, singing while lying down on sofas and on the floor, being lifted in the air, etc. It requires me to be physically fit and also very switched on acting-wise.

OW: How do you see the role of Calisto, based on the production? What will be explored most?

MB: Calisto is all naïveté, and that’s where her sexiness comes from. Unfortunately, her virginal innocence is what attracts Giove to her in the first place and what leads to his corruption of her. But she also has a ton of character and verve, and this really comes out in the choreography of this production. Calisto is played as a kind of Marilyn Monroe starlet character with an undercurrent of a wild animal, but all under the umbrella of being a young girl. It’s quite a complicated set of characteristics to play!

OW: You’ll also be in La Fenice for Gluck’s “Orfeo.” How does Gluck’s music relate to the baroque period, and given that he is part of a more classical period, how do you think the music evolved during this period?

MB: I think things simply became more prescribed and less “free” in the classical period. Composers started writing for full orchestra rather than simply having a basso continuo line and a vocal line, and the aria form became more separated from the recitative. Arias and duets, therefore, became longer and more of an “event,” while recitatives became shorter and more of a vehicle for the action. Arias were a moment of stopped time, where a character could reflect on what has just happened or what is about to happen.

OW: Why do you think early music suits your voice? Is this something you want to continue working with?

MB: I think early music suits all voices; it’s only stylistically that one needs to be adaptable. Some voices that would be considered “big” have been incredibly well-suited to baroque music (such as Joan Sutherland or Renée Fleming), and many singers these days are finding they can span all periods from the baroque to the romantic. I think it suits me well because I love to have expressive freedom when I sing, and Baroque music allows for a lot of that. There is so much allowance for personal interpretation in Baroque music, and that’s why I will always continue working in this sphere as long as I’m asked!

OW: What other projects do you have in the future, and what other roles would you like to explore?

MB: For my next big operatic project, I will be making my debut at Zurich Opera House in “Platée” by Rameau (playing Thalie and La Folie, Dec-Jan 2023-24). This is my first time singing French Baroque music, which is exciting, and the conductor is Emmanuelle Haïm, who I’ve been wanting to work with for a long time. Before then, I will be doing various bits and bobs, including releasing an album with my family choir, the Bevan Family Consort (with Signum Records, released May 2023), concerts with the English Concert, “Dido and Aeneas” for Den Ny Opera in Denmark (playing Dido), and more.