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A Tale of Januarie: Operatic irrelevance

2 Mar

 

Julian Philips’s new opera, The Tale of Januarie, which I saw at the Guildhall on 1st March is undoubtedly the first opera with a libretto allegedly in Middle English.  Before getting into the merits of the piece and the performance, I think it’s worth asking some questions about that.

Let me quote from the programme: the opera constitutes the Guildhall School’s contribution to the [Arts & Humanities Research Council funded…] programme’s translingual strand which seeks to promote Opera in a contemporary cultural context, generating dialogue and debate around the form within the school’s existing and well-established audience community.  With its Middle English libretto, the project hopes to heighten audience sensitivity to language in opera, whilst also allowing for a sharing of aesthetic practice both within the context of Guildhall composition programmes but also in its strategic partnership with the Royal Opera House…”  This is the sort of mixture of pretentious pseudo-academic speak and corporate jargon that instantly raises my hackles.  Is that really what opera has descended to these days: a vehicle for academic discussion?

Earlier on, the authors talk as if comprehending the words in opera has always been a problem.  I think that needs to be debunked.  There are some operas which were written for audiences who would not understand the language (Handel’s and some of Mozart’s spring to mind) but most composers wrote operas where the words were meant to be heard and understood.  And listening to recordings, combined with recollection and, indeed, the experience of The Winter’s Tale two days ago, suggests that it is very possible to do so.  While undoubtedly some people think that opera “sounds better” in a language they don’t understand, what are you hoping to achieve, if you think that the story is at all important, by setting the piece explicitly in a language that makes it less comprehensible?

I know that surtitles are universal but doesn’t it admit defeat from the start to write something which is intended to be witty, where the laughs depend on an audience reading the surtitles?

In any case, the experience here was strange.  The Middle English certainly wasn’t pronounced the way I was taught to pronounce it: it sounded like an uneasy mixture of 21st century vowels, with some unfamiliar words and formations.  Middle English-lite, I’d say.  What sort of contribution to the debate do you make if you write in a language and then encourage people to mispronounce it?

Oh dear, maybe I’ve just been contributing to an academic debate.  Better get on with the opera itself.

The plot is a good one about an elderly knight who marries a much younger woman and is cuckolded by his servant: good scope for comic scenes and, as happened, a rather touching ending.   Philips and his librettist Stephen Plaice add bits of local colour, choruses about the seasons and gods (Pluto and Proserpine) commenting on and providing something of a counter-point to the story.  It reminds me slightly of the part played by the chorus in Gloriana or the ballets in an opera by Rameau and it feels consciously archaic.  The episodes also go on far too long: one in particular where Proserpine’s nymphs tease Priapus (a sort of bawdy narrator figure) made me lose the will to live.  It’s not an especially long opera, but I felt that the local colour elements held things up and took time away from greater elaboration on the characters themselves.  The presentation felt about relevant and interesting as Merrie England.

And opportunities seemed to be missed.  Couldn’t you broaden out the opportunities for exploring the Damyan/May relationship?  For saying more about the Damyan/May relationship.  And there’s an episode where Damyan has problems with a key where the poor guy has nothing to sing at all and the mugging has to come entirely from the direction with no musical or verbal assistance at all.

Philips’s music adds to the archaisms by including medieval bagpipes, recorders and nods towards Machaut and other sort-of contemporary composers. Juxtaposed with an orchestra of sixty and a gently late 20th century easy idiom.  It’s all inoffensive and pleasant enough to listen to but with anything that stops you in your tracks or makes you come out with music lodged in your mind.

There are some effective moments: the love making of Januarie and May is quite amusing in a vulgar, carry-on sort of way.  The last scene with the dead Januarie is quite touching and there’s some grateful music to sing.  Philips’s music is confident and accomplished with nothing to stop you in the tracks or lodge in your mind.

It was done outstandingly.  Dominic Wheeler conducted clearly and the orchestra played superbly.  The chorus were excellent and the singing uniformly good.  Everyone has pointed out John Findon’s commanding performance as Januarie – and he’s very good indeed and makes a convincing old man.  His tenor is strong – ideal for Britten, I would say.  There is some lovely singing from Joanna Marie Skillet as May, Elizabeth Skinner as Proserpine (both displaying gorgeous creamy voices), Dominic Sedgwick (a bit wasted) as Damyan, the love interest and Martin Haessler as Pluto.  These were superbly committed performances.

Martin Lloyd Evans’s production was set firmly in a medieval never, never land while Dick Bird’s sets and costumes created a Breughel-ish picture that had been very firmly dry-cleaned.  The direction was sound enough without ever making the work feel exciting or interesting.

So it made a pleasant enough, unchallenging, unmemorable evening.  I don’t think I’ve ever though opera so irrelevant.  This is what happens when academics get hold of it.

Mixed Martinů

4 Jun

The Guildhall has unearthed two more rarities for its summer offering – two short pieces by Martinů, written in French at different stages of his career.  I thought they’d be worth a look and got to the first night on 31st May.

The first was Ariane, one of his last works, performed posthumously.  It’s a psychological interpretation of the Minotaur myth.  Theseus and Ariadne fall in love; he kills the Minotaur but recognises it as being another facet of his own personality and leaves.  Ariadne has a final aria lamenting her state.  It lasts about 45 minutes.

The title role was written with Maria Callas in mind, though there’s no evidence that there was the remotest chance of her singing it.  Rodula Gaetonou’s production set it in a Paris recording studio, imaging that Callas herself and a group of other “famous” singers (“Giuseppe di Bergamo” was about the level we’re looking at) were making a recording of the piece.

I’ve never quite got Martinů and I’ve tended to find the subject-matter of his operas more interesting than the music for them, which I usually find quite bland.

I’m ashamed to say that I can’t speak much about Ariane.  I was lulled to sleep after about 10 minutes of what struck me as rather bland, generic music and opaque direction.  I woke in time for the last 10 minutes and heard Nicola Said make what sounded like a strong job of a challenging but not terribly memorable final aria for Ariadne.  You’ll have to go yourself to find out if I missed a long-last masterpiece. Sorry.

I was wide awake for the second opera, Alexandre bis, a witty, absurdist piece from 1937 when the composer was living in Paris and, again, only performed posthumously.  It’s  about a man who shaves off his beard in order to pretend to be his American cousin and test his wife’s fidelity.  He’s observed by the maid and his own portrait. As a result, his wife decides to go off with  her admirer, Oscar.  It’s a cynical, absurdist take on Cosi fan tutte.  The music owes a lot to French operetta and jazz.  It’s jolly without being memorable or interesting, though the story itself is huge fun.  I very much enjoyed Gaetanou’s witty and inventive production, elegantly choreographed, catching the absurdity and very funny.

The opera doesn’t strike me as having major opportunities for singers but I thought that Bianca Andrew as the maid, Milan Siljanov as the portrait, Josep-Ramon Olive as Alexandre and Elizabeth Karani as his wife gave fluent, excellently prepared performances that were a joy to watch.

Timothy Redmond conducted fluently without convincing me that either piece was in the second, let alone first rank of operas, but I was very glad to have seen Alexandre bis.

Student Donne Curiose

10 Nov

I wonder what I’d do without the music colleges and, particularly the Guildhall in introducing me to the by-ways of the repertory.  Just this year, I’ve seen five operas that I’d be lucky to see elsewhere.  The latest, which I saw on 9th November, is Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari’s Le donne curiose, a comedy from 1903, his first successful opera.  It was originally performed in a German translation before Toscanini did it at the Met in 1912 in the original Italian.

I wonder what Toscanini thought of it.  It’s quite interesting in that it comes in that slightly odd point in operatic history before Puccini and Richard Strauss had taken off, before Lehar had redefined operetta, before Stravinsky and the 2nd Viennese School.  It feels like a very conservative work indeed – an attempt at an opera buffa based on Goldoni and written heavily under the influence of Falstaff.

The plot feels like Merry Wives of Windsor without Falstaff. A group of men have their club where they meet to drink and complain about women. Their wives and girlfriends are curious about what’s going on and have all kinds of theories and attempt various devious ways of getting in. They succeed and find, of course, that their fears are groundless and that there’s nothing to worry about.

The problem is that it all feels a bit lame and inconsequential without the sort of strong characterisation that, I suspect, is likely to be in Goldoni’s original and which can be the only justification for putting on what is otherwise a piece of nonsense. The piece works best when dealing with the different relationships. For me, it woke up in the second act where there seems, quite seriously, to be some domestic violence going on (but skated over) and in the following one where there is a gorgeous quartet for husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend, a smashing aria for the girlfriend and a gem of a duet for her and her boyfriend.

The rest of it is enjoyable enough, though I found the first act a bit on the long side.  The music isn’t quite individual enough. You hear flashes of Rossini, Donizetti, pre-indications of Puccini and a huge amount that isn’t quite good enough for Falstaff. I was reminded slightly of Cimarosa’s Matrimonio segreto where the opening impression is one of pleasure at the fizzing music to be succeeded by an urgent desire that it would stop and go somewhere interesting.  It’s a relatively short piece, but you often feel that it could have been shorter. And it’s rather hard to feel sympathy for any of the characters.

I could imagine this being quite enjoyable if you had an enthusiastic enough director with a strong enough concept. Here, Stephen Barlow got part of the way.  He had the sense to see that an eighteenth century setting was likely to be the kiss of death. Whether a late 1960s setting was the answer, I’m not sure. The men’s club seemed to be more like a teenager’s bedroom with football posters, games and other masculine clichés – no porn, of course. Their food preferences appeared to be beer and pizza. This was a place for slumming it. Their homes appeared to be relentlessly middle class. There were some amusing touches – the group of lost tourists, for example – and superbly garish sets and costumes from Yannis Thavoris who managed the quick change needed between the last two scenes to perfection (the first time I’ve heard the sets get a round of applause at this address).  Otherwise, it was amiable, with the nastier side only just hinted at.

The cast was very strong. There are nine main roles and a number of minor ones and there were some rather promising singers out there. The most interesting seemed to me to be Thomas Atkins from New Zealand. I don’t think I’ve heard such a promising spinto tenor in a student performance before. He has a real “ping” aligned to a gentle, reedy quality and has a nice, enthusiastic acting ability. He gave enormous pleasure in some of the most grateful music of the opera.  He’ll make a lovely Rodolfo or Alfredo and probably beyond. I hope he can manage the career sensibly. You could imagine all kinds of opera houses queuing up for him.

Of the other men, Christopher Cull made a rather nasty Lelio and displayed a rather good baritone, Josep-Ramon Olivé was pretty strong as Pantalone, the club owner and Milan Siljanov struck me as quite promising as Arelecchino. These were good voices, not over-taxed by the music and game actors.

Of the women, Nicola Said was a very sweet, Nanetta-like Rosaura with plenty of personality, Elizabeth Karani showed bags of spirit and a spit-fire soprano as Eleanora, the potentially battered wife, Bethan Langford was a sensible Beatrice and Katerine Balejko was a resourceful, sweet, nicely sung Columbine.  It all made for a very nice ensemble performance.

Mark Shanahan conducted – the orchestra sounded a bit scratchy but never drowned the singers and there was some elegant, confident playing while the music was in the strings’ comfort zone.

In today’s climate, I don’t see this ever making the repertory but it made an enjoyable evening and I was glad that I saw it.

Rare Henze at the Guildhall

9 Jun

Another imaginative double bill from the Guildhall. This was of two sort-of operas by Hans Werner Henze – Ein Landarzt and Phaedra. Neither of them are common and, although the programme didn’t say so, I wonder if these were the English premieres. I saw the opening night on 8th June.

Ein Landarzt (The Country Doctor) is a setting of a short story by Kafka and originally written for radio in 1951 and subsequently adapted for the stage in 1964. It’s a piece for baritone in which the doctor tells of a nightmarish call to cure a patient involving magical horse, a groom that will rape is servant girl, strange, incurable wounds and an end with him desperately trying to return home. It’s a virtuoso piece for a baritone, written for Fischer-Dieskau. I thought that Martin Haessler gave a remarkably assured performance where he caught the balance that all good lieder singers need between acting and letting the singing speak for itself. He’ll make a smashing lieder singer, I think. As for the piece I rather wished it had been sung in English – I think you need to have the immediacy of understanding the words. The accompaniment struck me as no more than that. It sounded like most people’s idea of difficult modern music – spiky, astringent and not very lyrical. It was a strong enough half hour, particularly with Mr Haessler in charge, but I’ve no particular desire to see it again.

Phaedra is very late Henze, premiered in 2007, five years before his death, described as a Concert Opera. The first half tells the Greek Hippolytus story in which the wishes of the gods are linked with those of the humans – Aphrodite siding with Phaedra, Artemis (sung by a counter-tenor) with Hippolytus – it’s almost a battle of the sexes. I found the libretto for the first act impenetrable and the music, while much lusher than in Landarzt, less helpful, more soporific. The second act was more remarkable. Here Henze takes the Roman sequel to the Greek legend and has Artemis revive the dead Hippolytus, save him from Phaedra and Aphrodite who want to take him to the underworld and unleashes him as the lord of her forest. It’s an exploration of life after death, informed by Henze’s own experience of two months in a coma in between writing the two acts. The music feels as if it’s in an entirely different vein and I found myself interested in the ideas and concepts and in the expressive quality of the music itself. I thought this piece had something going for it.

It seemed to me to be impeccably performed. Lawrence Thackeray sang Hippolytus with real beauty and care for the words. He conveyed the predicament of the man with the dimmest of memories of his previous life really well. Ailsa Mainwaring was a suitably tortured Phaedra, Meili Li a strong, certain, Artemis, Laura Ruhi-Vidal a glamorous Artemis. Rick Zwart sang strongly as the Minotaur.

Ashley Dean’s production struck me as very strong indeed. He directed the first opera sensibly, not getting in the way of direct communication of the text. I found the first act of Phaedra a bit of a trial, the second Act fascinating and I thought that he caught the nightmarish uncertainty of Hippolytus’s position very successfully. There was real visual clarity about the interpretation and certainty in the acting.

Timothy Redmond conducted. I don’t know the scores, but the orchestral playing sounded convincing and assured. These cannot be easy scores to learn but there was real confidence about this performance and some really fine playing.

Unusually for operas at the Guildhall, the theatre was half full but the audience reception was more than respectful. I can’t see either of these becoming repertory operas but I think I’d see Phaedra again.

More Guildhall Rarities

5 Mar

More respect to the Guildhall School for giving us the chance to see another two rarities. The only real connection between Donizetti’s I pazzi per progetto and Sir Malcolm Arnold’s The Dancing Master is that they’re hardly ever performed, but they’re both comedies and both give great opportunities for students. As an avid collector, seeing them both in one evening was too good an opportunity to miss.

The Donizetti is relatively early – 1830. It’s set in a madhouse where a venal guardian tries to place his daughter (who seems to chase men, particularly colonels), a deserting trumpeter seeks refuge as a doctor and a colonel returning from the wars arrives to see his angry wife and his mistress. Both husband and wife pretend to be mad before making up. Even with surtitles it’s pretty difficult to work out what’s going on and, after a while, you rather cease to care. The piece is about twenty minutes too long and there are one or two duets which seriously outstay their welcome. Musically, it fizzes along buoyed by the influence of Rossini (at one point the wronged wife quotes from Semiramide) but without any particularly memorable numbers. It doesn’t have the sheer sureness and wit that distinguishes the glorious Francesca di Foix.

And the singing didn’t quite do justice to the writing, though there were some valiant performances. At the cast I saw, Laura Ruhi-Vidal sang Norina, the wronged wife and was tested to the limits and beyond by the more exposed coloratura and florid passages. At other times, it struck me that there was a really nice light soprano here. Ailsa Mainwaring also seemed a bit stretched as the mistress, Cristina. Szymon Wach as Brinval, the philandering Colonel, has a nice, Corbelli-ish voice and, I thought, sang well and looked suitably bewildered. Best was David Shipley as the mad-house owner, Darlemont whose accurate coloratura and patter made me wish the role was larger.

The Arnold is an interesting curiosity and a rather tantalising pointer to what might have been a strong operatic career. Written in 1952 it was rejected by the BBC because it’s a bit naughty – I struggled to see why – and has barely been done since. The plot is reminiscent of a Rossini one-acter (and there are echoes of Barber, for example, all over the place. The daughter of a man with a silly Spanish accent is about to married to a man with a silly French accent decides that she prefers a man with a normal English accent who climbs through her window and has to pretend to be a dancing master. It runs out of steam slightly towards the end and could probably do with losing ten minutes. There’s an arch knowingness about the plot that might well get tedious after a few performance.

Arnold’s music, is exuberant – brassy, witty, at times touching and announcing a major new talent that, you wish, could have had the opportunities to refine it. Britten is obviously an influence with echoes of Grimes and Herring and you can hear loads of Shostakovitch in there too. What struck me as even more interesting was the sense that this idiom isn’t a million miles away from Bernstein and Sondheim, while some of it wouldn’t be out of place in St Trinian’s. It’s massively energetic, very much of its time and not quite good enough (even allowing for the awkward length to allow for being more than a really interesting, enjoyable curiosity. It certainly gives Walton’s The Bear a good run for its money and leaves Lennox Berkeley’s Dinner Engagement standing gaping in admiration.

II was done very well. Shipley was back as the silly father with the Spanish accent and sang strongly. He’s starting on the ROH’s Jette Parker programme and it’s a long time since I’ve heard such a firm, well trained, confident voice in this auditorium. The voice has none of the slight hollowness that lots of student basses have and he has a real authority about him. I don’t think I’ve felt so confident about prophesying a really good career for ages. Alison Rose made a very sweet Miranda who sang her rather touching aria really well. Robin Bailey hammed up Monsieur, the silly lover with the silly French accent, and Lawrence Thackeray was charming as Gerard the false Dancing Master.

I had the sense that Dominic Wheeler had spent most of the rehearsal time on the Arnold. The Donizetti was decently played, no more, but the Arnold was outstanding with the orchestra having a high old time with whooping horns and brass, eclectic rhythms and generally jollity. One of the best orchestral performances I’ve heard here.

Martin Lloyd-Evans directed both. There were some nice touches in the Donizetti – the continuo was played by one of the madman who insists on them singing rather than speaking the dialogue – but I think there was a limit to what he could do with one of the composer’s less successful operas. In the Arnold he caught the rather arch, camp silliness of it nicely. As ever, it was crisp and looked good.

I won’t go into mourning if I never see either of these again, but it is enriching to see them once and, if you can get a ticket, I’d go.

Baroque Bill at the Guildhall

17 Jun

The Guildhall’s Milton Court theatre is a huge success. It’s a lovely, intimate horseshoe auditorium, slightly smaller, I think, than the Royal College’s Britten Theatre, but the same idea. It has clear, warm acoustics and an intimate feel. It’s a much more welcoming, professional-looking place than the Silk Street Theatre and the only irritation is that attendants don’t seem quite clear about the best entrances for the seats and that there seem to be quite a lot of stairs to get anywhere. My first experience of a performance in the theatre was for the Guildhall’s summer double bill of operas on 16th June. I hope it won’t be the last.

It was a strange double bill. The first item was Thomas Arne’s The Cooper. This piece lasts an hour and strikes me as the most pointless, witless pieces of theatre that I have seen in a long time. The plot is about an old Cooper, Martin, whose apprentice, Colin and ward, Fanny, succeed in marrying despite his best endeavours. The dialogue is unbelievably stilted and silly, the nadir being the entrance of a drunken neighbour. It’s one of those where most of the musical numbers are prefaced by “sing me that song…”. Most of them are forgettable as soon as you’ve heard them. The best is the point where Martin, hearing Colin in the workshop come down with a candle and thinks that he hears things moving. Sullivan did it a lot better in Pirates of Penzance, but, at least there’s some interesting stuff going on in the orchestra. For the remainder, it’s really hard to imagine any sort of society that would think that this was worth spending time or money on. I can only imagine that it was written for some particular popular comedian.

It was decently done. The singing was good, particularly from Piran Legg as Martin. Romula Gaitanou directed a production that probably didn’t look very different from what went on when it was first done but with virtually no life or wit. A backdrop after a contemporary Dutch performance on the same subject was attractive.  Julian Perkins conducted. I thought the orchestra played the overture quite horribly.  I cannot imagine ever wanting to see this piece again.

Things changed considerably for the second item, Alessandro Stradella’s San Giovanni Battista. This was written as oratorio but, rather like Handel’s ones it’s intensely dramatic. There are heartfelt arias and fascinating duets. Stradella had a dramatic life, apparently involving rather too many liaisons with other people’s wives leading to a number of contracts on his life. I’m now quite curious to see Flotow’s opera about him.

But I digress. This made a good, satisfying evening. It tells the Salome story: essentially St John starts by leaving his followers to tell Herod to pluck out evil from his court. He arrives and Salome demands his head successfully and it ends with a duet for her and Herod – quite extraordinarily fine. There are fine arias for St John, for Salome and Herod and some pretty good duets as well.

Hopkins’s orchestra had improved out of all recognition, Gaitanou’s production had fun suggesting the lasciviousness of Herod’s court by lots of cross-dressing courtiers but enabled you to concentrate on the emotions and the music. This was well delivered. I was particularly impressed by Meili Li’s warm, strongly produced counter tenor in the title role. He sang elegantly,. honestly and with real conviction. Joseph Padfield was a very strong, frustrated Herod, Lauren Zolezzi was a very glamorous Salome and Gerard Schneider (a nice Colin in the Arne) sang very elegantly as Herod’s Counsellor.

I’d like to see and hear some more Stradella after this – maybe one of his real operas.

 

Francesca di Foix delights

5 Nov

Just occasionally, I come across an opera that I want to shout about – inspiring one of those “where have you been all my life” feelings – and in a performance that I found one of the happiest evenings I’ve had for some time.  The latest is Donizetti’s Francesca di Foix, which I saw at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama on 4th November.  I have the Opera Rara recording and played it a while ago while doing other things.  It struck as amiable Donizetti without being particularly special.  This performance made me think quite a lot better of it than that.

It has a very diverting plot – one of those rare operas that has absolutely no love interest and centres round a practical joke.  The jealous Count keeps his wife, Francesca, locked up and has given out that she is ugly and deformed to keep her away from the lecherous king.  The King and his friend the Duke plot with the page Edmond to release her.  She arrives in disguise and is then recognised by her husband who, having given out that she is ugly, cannot claim her as his wife.  It is only after a tournament when the King offers to marry her to the Duke that the Count finally admits that Francesca is his wife.  She sings a virtuoso final aria claiming a victory for women everywhere.

So it’s an amiable practical joke which owes quite a lot to Rossini’s one-acters.     It doesn’t have any particularly stand out arias (though one or two pretty attractive ones) but it does have a group of really delightful, witty duets and trios that exploit the comic potential of the plot – that for the Countess, Count and King as the Count recognises his wife is a complete joy.   They’re charming, witty and a delight to listen to.  It’s hard to think of a less sentimental or malicious comedy than this very happy, tolerant piece.  It shows the same sense of timing and joy as the best bits of Pasquale and Elisir (for which Donizetti took a march from here to open Act II).  At 80 minutes it doesn’t outstay its welcome, but the slight sadness is that this is a rotten length for an opera, these days and, probably, it’s just a bit slight for any of the major companies to take it on.

So many, many thanks to the Guildhall for staging it and giving us the opportunity to see it in the flesh.  It was given a very busy, pretty well-drilled staging by Stephen Barlow.  He’s updated it and set it in the Valois fashion house where the King is obviously the inspirational designer and the other aristocrats are the managers and salesmen.  Their event, apparently, is taking fashion back to 1523, allowing  some delightfully silly costumes mixing 16th and 21st century fashion.  The tournament is a tennis match.  Barlow peoples this with a chorus of wealthy buyers and design nuts.  The men change into tennis whites for the tournament.  In that guise, they have very silly, very wittily choreographed movements and it was a shame that this chorus couldn’t quite deliver them with the straight-faced precision that they needed.  In the first scene there is a little too much going on, but perhaps this also disguises the fact that the opera takes a little while to get going. Barlow has huge fun with the duets and trios and I found I was spending much of the evening with a broad smile on my face, enjoying the situations, the music and the direction.  Perhaps there is a slightly more sentimental aspect to the piece than he found, but I rather doubt it.

I saw the first of two casts.  It’s probably asking too much for the students at the Guildhall to have the same levels of refinement and artistry of more experienced artists or, indeed to feel completely comfortable with this sort of music.  They had more than a brave stab at it.  As Francesca, Anna Gillingham had all the notes and fearless coloratura.  She struck me as having a strong sense of style as well and a very attractive, witty personality.  All she needs is a little more star quality and charisma.  As the Count, Szymon Wach had a lovely line in bewildered stupidity and displayed a promising young bass even though he has the least interesting music to sing.

I greatly admired Piran Legg’s voice and singing as the King.  He has that rather gentle baritone that works nicely in this sort of work – think Bruscantini and Corbelli – and I think he’s someone to watch.  Joshua Owen Mills sang the Duke – the unattached tenor role.  He has one of the best arias – a lovely cavatina towards the end.  He has a really lovely tenor that has the warmth to make him a lovely Nemorino or Ernesto – he needs greater freedom and the tone sounds constricted under pressure – but there was promise here.  Elizabeth Desbruslais as Edmondo, similarly, displayed a lovely mezzo that, in principle, sounds just right for bel canto but here needed more power and freedom.

Dominic Wheeler conducted stylishly and the chorus sang enthusiastically.

I will treasure happy memories of this piece and will listen to it again more closely.  It would be great if one of the Festivals were to have a go at it – it’s an intimate piece and would well at Glyndebourne or at Opera North.  Now, since the Guildhall has been having a go at rare Donizetti recently, it would be good to have more – what about Campanello or Convenienze e inconvenienze teatrali?

It was preceded by Debussy’s L’enfant prodigue.  It’s not really an opera – rather an oratorio or series of scenes that can’t help being more than a piece of Victorian religiosity, albeit with some attractive music.  Barlow staged it as such – in a 19th century French villa.  It worked, looking good and elegant, but didn’t avoid the sentimentality.  Lauren Fagan sang strongly and idiomatically as Lia, Gerard Schneider showed a strong, virile tenor as the son and Joseph Padfield struck me as needing an ounce or two more weight as the father.
Wheeler’s conducting brought out the beauties of the score and the orchestra sounded a bit more comfortable in this than in the Donizetti.

This was one of the most enjoyable evenings at the opera  that I’ve had in ages.