WSU opera happy to 'raise eyebrows' in 'La Calisto'

4:02:17 PM CDT - Wednesday, February 15, 2006

By Shannon Littlejohn

The early Greeks and Romans had their own version of today's celebrities: the gorgeously golden and frequently scandalous gods and goddesses. The myths surrounding them have provided fodder for the performing arts for centuries.

Those frisky gods and goddesses are what makes "La Calisto," an opera that will kick March's performing arts efforts off in fine style, almost as sexy as "Sex in the City," said Marie King, who is directing the production. Although there is nothing as graphic, she said, "La Calisto" is just about as full of cross-dressing, gender-bending, sex and violence as the popular television series.

"In its own time, it raised plenty of eyebrows," said King, who is directing the 17th-century opera with music by Francesco Cavalli; book by Giovanni Faustini.

"La Calisto" is a story from Ovid's "Metamorphoses," set as a baroque opera. Based on Greek and Roman creation myths, it's a musical satire that explains the formation of the constellation Ursa Major (the great bear, or Big Dipper).

It's also a large ensemble cast that is an excellent vehicle for student singers, King said, and the performance will be in Italian with English titles.

The printed program will contain a short review of the mythology involved: Jove, king of the gods; Mercury, trickster of the gods; Calisto, a nymph, follower of Diana; Endimione, devoted lover of Diana; Diana, virgin goddess of the moon and the hunt; Linfea, an aging nymph; Satyr, a woodland creature, half man, half goat; Pan, the goat-god; Juno, queen of the gods, Jove's wife; and the Furies, tormentors from Hell.

The story follows the wood-nymph Calisto who, as a devotee of the chaste moon goddess Diana, is also sworn to virginity. But Jupiter has other ideas about Calisto and schemes to seduce her by disguising himself as Diana. Calisto becomes pregnant and, as punishment, is turned into a bear by Jupiter's jealous wife, Juno. Jupiter, however, compensates by placing his betrayed love and their child into the heavens, forming the constellations Ursa Major and Ursa Minor.

As with most WSU opera productions, "La Calisto" is double cast with undergraduate and graduate students. Sabine Heath and Valerie Snyder share the role of Calisto. Rebecca Carr and Jennifer Weiman are cast as Diana/Jove-Diana; William Browning and Jon Sauceda play Jove; Sean Hess and Todd Walters play Mercury. Juno is shared by Susan Packard and Jessica Walkup; Endimione by Matthew Nichols and Sam Snook; Pan by Brian Armbrust and Ted Dvorak; Silvano by Marland Chang and Victor Romero; the little Satyr by Sara Fraser and Stephanie Jarvis. In the role of Linfea are Amy Cain and Anna Fillmore, also sharing goddess limelight with Lauren Brown, Jennifer Rebours, Rebecca McBride and Janet Shaw.

Baroque opera relies on a "continuo" instead of a full orchestra, King said. That involves an independent bass line, usually realized on a keyboard instrument, in which numerals written underneath the notes indicate the kinds of harmony to be played. Thomas Grubb as music director will lead the small ensemble from the harpsichord. Sabrina Vasquez is the movement consultant; Ray Clithero and Jason Flanders designed the sets; Rebecca Maholland designed costumes; Sean Roberson designed lights.

A smart and sassy libretto runs through the erotic situations and racy humor, King said. But again, although the subject matter is racy, it is far from graphic, and contains no strong language.

"La Calisto" is rated PG 13.

WSU Opera Theatre will present "La Calisto" in Italian with English titles at 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, March 2-4; 3 p.m. Sunday, March 5, in Miller Concert Hall. Tickets are $15 with discounts available. For more information, call the College of Fine Arts Box Office at 978-3233.

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