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Review: L'EGISTO, Cockpit Theatre

Sublime music overcomes muddled plot - well, 17th century innit?

By: Jun. 07, 2021
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Review: L'EGISTO, Cockpit Theatre  Image

Review: L'EGISTO, Cockpit Theatre  ImageThey knew a bit about pandemics in 17th century Venice, so Francesco Cavalli would be less surprised by the face masks, social distancing and solicitous stewarding than any other element of the evening, were he to drop by the Cockpit Theatre and see his old show's new production. (Hopefully, he'd hang around a bit to explain the plot too).

Hampstead Garden Opera must be applauded for putting on a show - any show - in these strange days, but that sounds patronising (because it is). The production stands or falls not on its "Show Must Go On" credentials, but on its merits as an opera - a bloody difficult one to play and sing too. Fortunately it succeeds, save a quibble here and there.

Let's get those out of the way first. If you thought A Midsummer Night's Dream's story was a bit manipulative, Cavalli's librettist, Giovanni Faustini, saw that and doubled down on the mismatched lovers, supernatural intervention and bickering gods. Let's just say it's not real life. The subtitles? Well, they're often not real English either, with some clunky and some cheesy and some rather cheeky - they help, even if their font size is a bit overpoweringly FRANKIE SAYS.

The lovely, luscious music is played on lutes and lots of other Baroque period instruments that look as interesting as they sound. The sound that emerges is beautifully balanced for this staging in the round and has a gorgeous fragility, emphasised by the occasional leap into more strident set pieces. Musical Director Marcio da Silva has gathered a talented group of multi-instrumentalists and, with London getting back to its horn-honking volume, what an oasis of aural delights they provide.

If the pacing can be a little glacial for anyone brought up on the Marvel cinematic universe (or, to be honest, the films of Andrei Tarkovsky) we have some wonderful singing to listen to as the lovers sort themselves out. Double cast to protect throats - croaking and coughing on the tube home is not a good look just now - I saw Helen May's wonderful Climene, supported by strong work from Kieran White in the title role, with Eric Schlossberg and Shafali Jalata rounding out the four lovers. As Amore, Stephanie Hershaw, having survived an attempt on her life with a little divine assistance, is in show-stealing form, firing her arrows with puckish naughtiness.

There's some dance, even a little slapstick and spectacle too (so long as you're not expecting Aida), and, most of all, a chance to see an opera that was very popular in its time if not much performed since. It would have been much easier to do a lockdown La Bohème and we could marvel at how it catches the zeitgeist, but choosing L'Egisto took some courage. And fortune favours the brave.

L'Egisto is at the Cockpit Theatre until 13 June.

Photo Laurent Compagnon.


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