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Hipermestra review at Glyndebourne – ‘the entire cast is impressive’

A scene from Act II of Hipermestra at Glyndebourne. Photo: Tristram Kenton A scene from Act II of Hipermestra at Glyndebourne. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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Back in the 1960s, Glyndebourne launched the revival of the 17th-century Venetian Francesco Cavalli, with stagings of his then obscure L’Ormindo and La Calisto, re-engineered for contemporary tastes by Raymond Leppard. Now the company opens its season with a new production of the equally unknown Hipermestra, in what is only its second modern staging.

This time around, Baroque specialist William Christie is in charge of the music, performed by himself and a small ensemble from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in perfect, up-to-scholarly-date, historically informed manner. Making a welcome return to the festival is former director of productions Graham Vick, whose last new staging for the company was in 2000.

Premiered in Florence in 1658, Hipermestra is based on a Greek myth about regal twin brothers and mortal enemies Danao and Egitto. To escape a prophecy about his death, Danao marries his 50 daughters to Egitto’s 50 sons, secretly commanding his daughters to slaughter their husbands on their wedding night. All comply except Hipermestra, who saves her beloved Linceo – with devastating consequences played out over three long acts.

Vick and designer Stuart Nunn move the visuals to the contemporary Middle East, where the grimly spectacular war-torn cityscapes have disturbing resonances. Wearing Arab dress, Christie and the other musicians are occasionally brought on stage and involved in the action – hilariously so when Mark Wilde’s mature drag-act wet-nurse Berenice launches herself at him with amorous intent.

But it’s mostly a very serious show, the complex if not diffuse action skilfully conveyed by the director and a hard-working team of singers. There are standouts from Hungarian soprano Emoke Barath as a strong, sweet-toned Hipermestra, Italian counter-tenor Raffaele Pe’s troubled but undaunted Linceo, Benjamin Hulett’s violent Arbante, and Italian baritone Renato Dolcini’s desperate Danao – but the entire cast is impressive.

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