L’Arianna abbandonata e gloriosaLeft – Daniela Kaleva and Donald Nicolson

Dr Daniela Kaleva's show is a unique combination of academic exploration which both intermediates and underpins the performances. Her aim is to present two contrasting styles of performance of the Lament of Arianna, drawn from Monteverdi's lost opera L'Arrianna, which tells the story of Arianna's grief at her betrayal by her fiance Teseo. With a view to how modern audiences might react differently, she presents the same lament in two different performances.

As introduction, an unaccompanied harpsichord playing Italian keyboard music set the tone beautifully. The first performance of the Lament which followed was a typically modernised solo piece, with Kaleva's perfomance accompanied by the harpsichord. A short talk on the two operas and their interpretations by Professor Han Baltussen followed was insightful, although the explanatory value to the audience of this might have been more useful if placed before both performances. Then followed the second performance, which was historically informed using methods of rhetorical gesture, recitative style opera and the interjection of spoken dialogue in English by a second character.

As one who is entirely uninitiated to opera, I found both performances to be a little emotionally alienating – the stylised grandeur of the performance being a distraction to someone who is unschooled. Rather than gaining insight into grief as such, I felt more that I was invited to view Arianna's grief as a performance (perhaps for catharsis) incorporating both beauty and self-awareness. The use of English interjections in the second performance, while a little jarring, further reinforced this spectacle of Arianna in an interesting way, as it distanced her from Dorilla who was seemingly then part of the audience's English speaking world, and rendered the Italian libretto a language of lament unique to Arianna. Following the libretto in English as provided in the program gave a much-needed foothold into Arianna's experience for me, and the second performance provided a little more context to her situation (via gesture and dialogue with Dorilla) that aided my understanding of her emotional turmoil.

The soundscapes created, particularly the opening sound design which featured spoken libretto over eerie, mellow chords and darkly oceanic sounds was an excellent orientation for the audience into Arianna's world. The choice of venue was the stately Mortlock Chamber of the State Library of South Australia which, although a bit chilly, was suitably grand. While it was a challenging show overall, there was undeniable connection formed between the audience and Arianna's grief, and much beauty evident in the elaborate costumes and in the grace of Kaleva's presence as the lamenting Arianna.

L’Arianna abbandonata e gloriosa

Venue: Mortlock Chamber, State Library of South Australia
Date: 25 November 2014
Tickets: $45 students, $60 adult, $100 two adults
Bookings/info: State Library of South Australia

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