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May 24, 2019

Vertical Player Repertory Brings Venice to Gowanus Canal With Francesco Cavalli’s ‘La Calisto’
by contributor (, published online 07-21-2011
By Nino Pantano
Special to Brooklyn Daily Eagle

GOWANUS — La Calisto, an opera in three acts, was composed by Venetian composer Francesco Cavalli (1602-1676) in 1651. The lyrics are by Giovanni Faustini (1615-1651). By the 1640s Cavalli was known as “the best composer in Italy.” Because of bad luck, La Calisto was forgotten until the 1970s.

The entrance and walk to the Proteus Gowanus courtyard at Union and Nevins streets evoked the back alleys of Venice. The audience sat with a view of factory stairwells and balconies. The Baroque orchestra was led by Jennifer Peterson, and the sound of these wonderful ancient instruments without any amplification added to the magic of the evening of Saturday, July 16, with its full moon.

La Calisto deals with the whims, pranks, passions and punishments of the ancient gods. Calisto is seduced by Jove in disguise as the “false” Diana. For the breaking of her virginal vows, Calisto is turned into a bear and becomes the constellation (Big Dipper) Ursa Major along with their love child, who becomes Ursa Minor.

The multi-talented founder of the Vertical Player Repertory Company is soprano Judith Barnes, who is also producer, director and set designer and has used various outdoor venues for stunning operatic productions. The costumes (by Heather Green), sets, chorus and dancers were all a part of this natural setting. The gods descending from the rooftops several stories above in regal regalia was sheer magic. Plaudits also to Scott Crawford as stage manager.

The cast was as follows: Nicholas Tamagna used his flexible and mellow countertenor as La Natura and Pane (Pan) and brought much mirth and mayhem in his singing of “Numiselvatici,” signaling his often-naughty behavior. Marcy Richardson’s pristine lyric soprano and saucy spirit made for a perfect L’Eternita, the “fake” Diana, and Diana. Her radiant voice was a bubbling stream of cascading sound. A triune triumph (for three characters)!

Joseph Hill made an indelible mark as Il Destino and Satirino both in voice and appearance. Hill’s luxuriant countertenor was truly heaven bound no matter how “hell bent” for phallic trouble this satyr was. His singing of “Pazzi, Pazzi” was just one of many magical moments.

Matthew Curran’s dark basso served him well as Giove. The composer’s music for Jove was a forerunner of the great bass arias of Mozart and Verdi to come. Curran looked and sang like a god.

Aram Tchobanian’s golden tenor made him a wonderful Mercurio, full of mischief and glee. Wishing Calisto and Giove a happy reunion, his singing of “Presto Il Fatov’unira” was a gem.

Holly Gash as Calisto sang in a caressing soprano with power on reserve, and evoked sympathy in her bear costume. Her aria to freedom, “Viver in Libertad” was a feast to the spirit and one of many that delighted the ear. Her fioritura in her aria Verginella io Morir Vo” was marvelous.

Hayden DeWitt’s warm flexible mezzo captivated all in the aria “Cormio” as Endimione the astronomer. In her black trouser outfit and binoculars, DeWitt reminded one of Barbra Streisand’s Yentl, yearning for love and truth. It was so nice to have her in orbit for this wonderful opera.

Toby Newman’s mellow mezzo warmed the heart as the prudish Linfea. Linfea wanted to quit the band of virgins and find herself a husband, and her saucy singing of “D’aver Un Consorte” proved the point.

Nathan Baer was an outstanding forest god Silvano, his resonant powerful basso and bare-chested “wildman” appearance made for a strong portrayal.

Juno (Giunone), wife of Jove, was beautifully sung and acted by company director Judith Barnes in blue and gold, looking every inch a goddess. Her soprano singing of “Moglie Mie Sconsolat” a was brilliant and sent a rainbow of sound to dazzle us mortal beholders. The audience responded to this stellar evening with cheers! Bravo to all!

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