I saw *La Calisto * at La Mama on 8/26/17, presented by Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble.  I was there to see my friend Ali, aka Alison Cheeseman.  She was playing Diana.  I've been friends with Ali for over ten years, have heard her in operas two or three times, am always impressed with her, she's an intelligent singer with a charming presence onstage.  Well, this time she BLEW ME AWAY.  More about her in a minute.

 

*La Calisto* is an opera from 1651 by Francesco Cavalli.  I saw it at University Opera in Madison in 1999, a charming production directed by Bill Farlow.  This is a perfect opera for a young cast, lots of roles, and music that demands artistry but not necessarily a big voice.

 

The story is about the king of the gods, Jove, deciding that he needs to get it on with Calisto, a lovely young follower of Diana.  Jove approaches Calisto and she spurns him, tells him she's virtuous and will remain a virgin.  Or to use an expression my friend Nicola taught me, "Heffa get out my FACE!"

 

Jove's wingman, Mercury, convinces him to go back down to earth, but this time in the guise of Diana.  He seduces Calisto, takes her into a cave where a lot of kissing and a lot of something else happens.  Later Jove's wife, Juno, finds out about this and has a shit fit.  She curses Calisto to a life of being pursued by the furies.  Jove releases her from this, allows her a peaceful death, and she transforms into a star.  What a guy.

 

The director Brittany Goodwin, told the story with wit and flair, making the most of her clearly meager budget.  Music director Charles Weaver obviously had a lot of rehearsal with the singers, there was a great deal of flexibility and never a moment that felt wonky or out of sync.  He and Adam Cockerham were the two lutes in the ensemble, and they were glorious.  Two violins, cello, two lutes, and harpsichord.  No conductor (as such).

 

Jove was played by bass baritone Nobuki Momma, who had a lovely voice.  I wish he'd had a bigger part.  Mercury was played by Timothy Stoddard, and how could I not fall for a tall, slim, blond, fey tenor in a Bubblicious pink suit?  Oh, and he sang well too.

 

Mezzo Allison Gish played Juno.  She made me think of something I read in a review on parterre.com, a review of Mozart's *Mitridate* at Santa Fe in 2001.  The reviewer said this about soprano Celena Shafer: "When that girl sang, you knew you were at the opera!"  I felt the same way about Gish.  She gave us the diva treatment on three levels: she gave us Marilyn Horne with her full throttle vocalism, Fiorenza Cossotto as Azucena with her bonkers drama, and Glenn Close as Cruella de Vil with her costume!

 

But the star of the show was my friend Ali.  In a sense she played three roles: Jove as Diana, all hunky manliness, basically a man in drag (she did everything but scratch her nuts) - - Jove PLAYING Diana, an arch, performative kind of grandezza - - and Diana herself, by turns imperious and tender.  Ali had not just different body language for each of these segments of her performance, but also noticeably different vocal shadings.  She was a marvel.

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