Don't walk. Run to the School for Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA) to catch the remaining performances of La Calisto, an opera composed in 1653 that's equal parts romance and raunch, performed by a superb cast of singers, instrumentalists and dancers who are all clearly having a wonderful time.
Composer Franceso Cavalli was savvy enough to take opera out of palaces and into public theaters, where he made a fortune. He used the story of virgin Calisto, a follower of the goddess Diana, who is seduced by Jove and transformed into a bear by the vengeful Juno. Diana has her own problems with hormones and so does another of her followers. There's not much sacred and a lot of profane, not to mention profanity.
There's a lot of transformation going on: Jove disguises himself as Diana to get it on with Calisto, meaning that bass baritone Daniel Okulitch puts on a long white robe, dons a wig and sings in convincing falsetto. A horny follower of Diana is sung by a male, a high soprano takes on the role of a frustrated satyr — and just what gender are the rest of Pan's satyrs and Diana's huntresses? Ted Huffman's staging is witty and occasionally wild; the battle between Pan's and Diana's tribes seems to involve more than the six or seven dancers onstage, thanks to the acrobatic choreography of Zack Winokur.
Okulitch sings Jove with the requisite authority and gravitas, which also renders him ridiculous when lust for Calisto overtakes him. Okulitch is equally adept singing in falsetto, which is no easy task when it involves vocal ornamentation. Andrew Garland, a great recitalist with innate comic instincts, is a natural as Jove's gofer Mercury.
Aaron Blake may be diminutive in stature but he has a huge, ringing tenor, and he was a hilarious Pan. Michael Maniaci sang Diana's lover Endymion, his pure male soprano giving the role genuine tenderness. Lyric tenor Thomas Michael Allen sang the role of libidinous nymph Linfea.
The women are all excellent, especially soprano Nathalie Paulin, a convincingly innocent Calisto. Mezzo Jennifer Johnson Cano was a formidable Diana, singing with authority and melting emotion. Alisa Jordheim's agile soprano easily handled the demands of the frustrated Satirino, and Alexandra Deshorties embodies vengeance and fury as Juno.
The chamber orchestra is joined by the phenomenal Catacoustic Consort and during intermission, a lot of the audience stopped by the orchestra pit to check out the theorbos, Baroque harp, lirone and viola da gamba. Conductor David Bates led a lively, nuanced reading of the score.
The action plays out on a unit set used for last year's Galileo Galilei, with a wonderful star curtain that descends as Calisto ascends to the heavens to become Ursa Major, or the Big Dipper.
La Calisto is Cincinnati Opera's first Baroque opera and they couldn't have made a better choice. It's heavenly.
La Calisto , presented by Cincinnati Opera, continues July 23, 25 and 27 at SCPA's Corbett Theater. More info here .