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After recently winning The American Prize for its 2022 production of Sweeney Todd, University Opera begins the 2023-24 season with Francesco Cavalli’s Baroque masterpiece, La Calisto. Four performances of this important work will be presented at Music Hall on the UW–Madison campus: November 17 at 7:30 pm, November 18 at 7:30 pm, November 19 at 2 pm, and November 21 at 7:30 pm. David Ronis, Karen K. Bishop Director of Opera, will direct and visiting guest artist and Baroque specialist Christa Patton will be the music director for the production.

Inspired by the myth of Calisto as recounted in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, La Calisto explores themes of gender and power, sex and consent, revenge and justice, mortality and morality. With a good dose of comedy thrown in. In Giovanni Faustini’s beautifully crafted libretto set to Cavalli’s intoxicating score, the gods are brought down to earth, both figuratively and literally. Here they let it all hang out and prove that they are every bit as lustful, pernicious, and simple-minded as mortal humans.

The story: Jove espies the fetching young nymph, Calisto, a devoted and chaste follower of the goddess Diana, and immediately falls in lust. On advice from Mercury, his right-hand man and fellow schemer, Jove disguises himself as Diana and successfully seduces Calisto. His wife, Juno, finds out and takes revenge, turning Calisto into a bear. But Jove manages to save Calisto from a life of wandering the earth in animal form by transforming her into a constellation, Ursa Major. Along the way, Diana falls in love with the handsome shepherd/astronomer Endymion and various hijinks are provided by Linfea, another follower of Diana, and a trio of satyrs.

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, it is difficult not to view the central plot line of the story as one about a powerful man–perhaps the most powerful archetype of a man ever–using cunning and deceit to seduce a naïve young woman. Not only does Jove get away with his ruse, but as Juno is powerless to truly punish her husband, she takes her fury out on… yes, the victim, Calisto. Although Calisto is eventually transformed into something seemingly beautiful and eternal – a constellation of stars – she has still undergone classic, textbook, sexual subjugation at the hands of a powerful patriarch.

The production will feature an ensemble of period instruments–harpischords, theorbo, Baroque guitar, Baroque harp, organ, Baroque strings, and recorders–creating an authentic sound world characteristic of the seventeenth century. The ensemble will be placed on the audience level of Music Hall, as opposed to being in in the orchestra pit. Thus, the audience will have the chance to be even closer to the musical underpinnings of the score and see the Baroque instruments.

Preceding the performance on Sunday, November 19 at 12:30 pm in Music Hall, there will be a panel discussion of dramaturgical and musicological aspects of La Calisto. The panel will consist of Christa Patton, music director for the production; Margaret Butler, Associate Professor of Musicology at the School of Music; Olivia Gacka, dramaturg and Ph.D. candidate in Interdisciplinary Theatre Studies; and David Ronis, Director of University Opera. The panel discussion is free of charge. The public is encouraged to attend.

The large cast for the University Opera production features May Kohler and Eliza Morris alternating in the title role and Eric Luebke and William Volmar as Giove. Eloise Berkley will portray both Diana and “Giove in Diana” while Madison Barrett will take on Endimione. Professor Julia Rottmayer will portray Giunone and Ryan Nash will be Mercurio. Danielle Bullock and Elena Paul will split performances of Linfea while Avery Brutosky and Riley Brutto will do the same with the role of Satirino. Benjamin Johnson and Noah Strube will split the performances of Pane while Augustine Ahn and Corey Lallo will do likewise with Silvano. For the Prologue, Minseon Lee will be Eternità, Jing Zhang will be Natura, and Brendin Larson will be Destino. Xinyi Liu and Alexxis McDade will round out the group of Nymphs and Furies.

Greg Silver will do triple duty as set designer, lighting designer, and technical director. Costumes will be designed by Kenneth Hoversten and Emily Popp. Sara Bartlett provides choreography, Jan Ross will design hair and makeup, and Zak Wolff will be the props designer. Musical preparation will be by Thomas Kasdorf and Frankie Bones is the rehearsal pianist. The production stage manager will be Elizabeth Cantwell. Others on the production staff include Oliva Gacka, assistant director and dramaturg; Benjamin Johnson, operations manager for University Opera; Audrey Ferrero, assistant stage manager; and Katie Eggers and Kyla Moore, costume assistants.

Tickets are $30 for the general public, $25 for senior citizens, and $10 for UW–Madison students, available in advance through the Campus Arts Ticketing office at (608) 265-ARTS and online at artsticketing.wisc.edu. Tickets may also be purchased in person at the Wisconsin Union Theater Box Office Monday-Friday, 11:30 am-5:30 pm,  and Saturdays, 12-5 pm, and at the door beginning one hour before the performance. The Carol Rennebohm Auditorium is located in the Music Hall, at the foot of Bascom Hill on Park Street.