Loosely based on the story of Jason and the Golden Fleece, Cavalli’s Jason was a runaway hit when it premiered in Venice in 1649, and it proved one of the most popular operas of the 17th century.
Like many operas from this period, the story uses classical myth as a jumping off point. Cavalli’s dazzling score careens fluidly between humour and pathos, intrigue and adventure.
Remarkably compelling … Van der Linde, with his silky countertenor, sounds glamorous as well as looks it, and by the end we fully understand why Hannah Pedley’s self-assured Medea and Catrine Kirkman’s desperate Isiphile are trapped in his orbit.
English Touring Opera have a sure touch in choosing repertoire: their exhumations of neglected works are always successful. No praise too high for the continuo support from the Old Street Band, under its director Joseph McHardy: a period-instrument ensemble with an unerring feel for idiom.
I like Medea’s conjuring-trick, setting a book on fire with her bare hands… and lovers of swashbuckler will enjoy the sword fight.
Apollo welcomes us, the audience, to the wedding of Medea to the hero Jason, announcing that it is also time for Jason to fulfill his destiny by capturing the Golden Fleece. Jason and Medea exchange vows in a ceremony, and retire together for the night.
The next morning, Hercules, Jason’s henchman and warrior, bemoans having to linger in Colchis when they should already be chasing the Fleece. The couple emerges, with Jason begging Medea to stay in bed. Hercules confronts Jason about their delay and reminds him of Isiphile, the pregnant wife Jason left on Lemnos. Jason can only excuse himself by saying that he is a slave to Medea’s many charms.
Medea, meanwhile, is pursued by her ex-lover, the king Egeus; he begs her to reconsider and to discard her new lover, but Medea rejects his entreaties, leaving Egeus to lament his sad fate. Moments later, Orestes, a spy from Lemnos, sneaks into Medea’s palace to see whether Jason is hiding there. He meets the stuttering, club-footed, hunchback servant Demus, who serves Egeus. Demus promises to help Orestes find Jason.
When Jason returns to the palace with Hercules, he is ready to set sail, and Medea performs a magical ceremony to protect him from the guardians of the Fleece. They depart together with Delfa and Hercules. Demus, having hidden in the closet and watched Medea perform her magical spells, tells Egeus the news that Medea has fled with Jason. Egeus vows to follow Medea to the ends of hell.
Cupid greets us this time, and vows revenge on Jason for having taken another wife against Cupid’s wishes. He conjures a storm that will send all of the characters to Lemnos, where Isiphile, Jason’s true wife, is waiting.
Isiphile wanders alone through the forests of Lemnos. Weakened by the emotional strife of endless waiting, she falls asleep and is found by Orestes, who informs her that Jason has wed another but will soon be forced to land in Lemnos because of the storm. Orestes then saves Demus from the ocean, where his ship has capsized during the storm. Demus informs Orestes that Egeus died in the storm.
Jason and Medea land safely on the shore of Lemnos, along with Hercules and Delfa, who go to find better shelter while Jason and Medea lie together in the forest. When the sun sets, Isiphile stumbles upon the sleeping couple and she wakes Jason, forcing him to confront his treachery. He swears to return to her, provided that she leave him now and go looking for his henchman, Hercules, at dawn for instructions on where to find him. Isiphile agrees and leaves Jason. Hercules returns and Jason gives him the order to murder anyone who approaches him by throwing them into the sea.
Egeus, still alive, arrives on the island and is still searching for Medea, having swum ashore from his wreck, and encounters Demus, who believes he must be a ghost.
Medea, having seen Jason speaking with Isiphile, goes looking for Hercules to find out what Jason is plotting. Hercules, following Jason’s orders, throws her into the sea. A moment later, Isiphile, Jason’s intended victim, arrives and asks Hercules for instructions, but Hercules, realizing what he has done, cannot bear to throw another woman in the sea, and tells her he cannot help her.
Egeus hears a woman’s voice calling for help in the ocean and bravely rescues his love, Medea. Her own love is rekindled when she realizes the identity of her savior. Egeus swears revenge on Jason.
Jason finds Hercules and asks him if the task is done, to which Hercules replies roughly that his orders have been carried out. Jason, exhausted from the night, lies down to sleep. He is awoken when Egeus makes an attempt on his life, and Jason is saved by his wife, Isiphile. Jason’s entire treachery soon comes to light as his plot to murder Isiphile is revealed. Isiphile finally offers to take her own life so that Jason can be happy, and it is this final, desperate act that causes Jason to beg forgiveness from all assembled.