Thanks to efforts of students of Warsaw’s three higher education institutions, the Polish premiere performance of Francesco Cavalli’s “Giasone” finally took place. After all, it was one of the most popular works in the 17th century, which is even proven by the fact that there are 10 different preserved copies of this opera that was staged in numerous theatres at that time. It does not change the fact, however, that later on “Giasone” remained forgotten for three centuries.
The opera may appeal to modern audiences and inspire stage arrangers. The title character, mythological Jason, is supposed to find the golden fleece during three acts with an allegorical prologue (featuring The Sun and Cupid). There is also Medea, a woman in love with him, and Isifile, the mother of his two children. But “Giasone” is unlike antique tragedy, it remains closer to Shakespearean plays, in which tragedy is mixed with comedy, and nobleness with frivolous, almost plebeian humour. The atmosphere is close to the one in “Midsummer Night’s Dream”, the characters’ adventures are similar, too, and the whole thing has a joyful finale joining two couples. Cavalli’s music stands out among other 17th century scores thanks to its substantial melodic diversity and it has a great way of characterising each person.
The Polish premiere of “Giasone” was a diploma performance of director Michał Zdunik from the National Academy of Dramatic Art. The student production had to use modest resources, and the scenography by Katarzyna Wesołowska of the Academy of Fine Arts was first of all limited to cushions scattered around the stage, but they created different settings in a very clever way. The performance had a hipster play-like character. Mythological references (especially that in Cavali’s work itself some things were shortened) could be found in the screened text of libretto, but with an assumption like that the production had less of that fake theatrical world and felt more natural.
Musical level turned out interesting. The Fryderyk Chopin University of Music managed to gain musicians from Haute Ècole de Musique in Geneva for collaboration. The ensemble conducted by Dorota Cybulska-Amsler was disciplined, energetic and sounded good. Among the soloists I watched (some roles had two performers), the role that stood out was Joanna Lalek (student of Joanna Radziejewska, with some concert experience) as Medea as she had a nicely trained and pure soprano voice. Jason was Mateusz Baryła (student of Artur Stefanowicz), a countertenor with not a very huge but well-sounding voice. Egeo’s part performed by Paweł Kucharczyk (tenor, student of Jerzy Knetig) was sung very accurately. Michał Kijewski (student of Włodzimierz Zalewski) showed his vocal and comedy talent in the role of Besso.
“Giasone” is another undertaking of the Opera Institute founded at the Academy of Dramatic Art by Ryszard Peryt. The success of the premiere performance suggests that this initiative, which is still at its starting point, should be finally developed with a more active participation of the Fryderyk Chopin University of Music and the Academy of Fine Arts as it would prove very beneficial for the development of opera theatre.