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12May

Laughs; then and now

By Genevieve Lang | Blog, Article | 12 May 2022 |

IN BRINGING CESTI’S LUSTY COMEDY ORONTEA TO AUSTRALIAN AUDIENCES FOR THE FIRST TIME, PINCHGUT KNOWS WE HAVE A HIT ON OUR HANDS.

Have you ever wondered about the success of this lil’ ol’ opera company that we like to call Pinchgut? In just 22 years, we’ve gone from being an idea fuelled by passion and commitment of a small group of people, to a world-renowned [and I don’t use that word lightly – Ed.] opera company that has garnered international awards and is sought after by some of the world’s greats.

So what’s the secret? Keen followers of Pinchgut might, by now, have nutted it out: Stellar (largely) Australian casts? Definitely! The astonishing talent of our orchestral musicians? Absolutely! Exemplary attention to musical detail from our Artistic Director Erin Helyard? For sure! Genius problem-solving from our directors and designers in bringing to life operas from 250+ years ago and making them relevant to the modern era? No doubt!

But alongside all these qualities, ask yourself this: would any of these artistic elements come into play if the initial choice of work was a dud? And the answer is surely, resoundingly – NO! So, what is it that guides Erin’s choices – Ouija board and crystals? ‘Ha! No,’ laughs Erin. ‘I like to choose pieces that were popular back in their day, because they were popular for good reasons.’ Wait. You mean to say, what worked back then still works today? ‘With very few exceptions, that’s true. Works like Cavalli’s Giasone and Gretry’s L’amant jaloux were loved by audiences and performers alike, both then and now.’

And so it was with Cesti’s Orontea. Written for the opera-loving Archduke of Tyrol and his shiny new opera house in Innsbruck, Orontea enjoyed no less than 17 revivals after its 1656 premiere – and all before the century was over. The secret to this opera’s success is two-fold: the charming lyricism of the score and the comic qualities of the subversive and, dare-I-say-it, erotic libretto.

Orontea tells of the fictional Egyptian queen Orontea who, along with every other woman in her court, falls for a handsome refugee painter, Alidoro. In the opening Prologue, La filosofia and Amore argue it out as to which will be triumphant – reason or love. Reason has an advocate in the form of Orontea’s lecturing advisor, Creonte. He manages to mess with Orontea’s mind to make way in Alidoro’s affections for the flip-flopping heart of Orontea’s lady-in-waiting, Silandra. The slave girl Giacinta, in manly disguise, inflames Alidoro’s sexually voracious mother, Aristea: ‘Think ‘Bob’ from Black Adder,’ laughs Erin, ‘and you’ll get a good sense of Aristea.’ Add in the Muppets-esque characters of the drunk Gelone and wise-beyond-his-years court page Tibrino and it’s a guaranteed laugh-out-loud night of musical entertainment. Spoiler alert: love conquers all.

Pinchgut Opera acknowledges the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, the first story-tellers and singers of songs. We pay our respects to elders past, present, and emerging. 
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