Rita/Iolanta GSMD 9 June

****

More interesting part of poster

The first thing to say about Rita is that the audience laughed frequently and spontaneously, a rarity in opera outside Gianni Schicchi in my experience.  In this Donizetti one-acter, Rita is the owner of a bar who believes in order and discipline and beats her husband Beppe.  Then her believed-to-be dead first husband Gasparo–who believed in beating her–turns up and they contend to see which one won’t have her.  With hilarious consequences.

There was a lot of inspired comic business–Beppe unvacuuming the premises in response to his sudden freedom, a fight in slow-motion, some other less tasteful things that Beppe got up to, a good gully catch by Bortolo the servant.  The singers were well-matched–perhaps Anna Patalong was still a bit too lovely even under her severe get-up, and Alberto Sousa as Beppe entered into the comic aspects of his role with such gusto that as well as enjoying an immediate rapport with the front row of the audience that he once or twice lost concentration as regards singing.

The orchestra played pretty well once they’d got started–the woodwind caused me some anxiety at the beginning.  The set was a corner representing the interior of a typical Italian bar, except that the signage was in English and you could get tea and sandwiches–perhaps that was one idea too many…

When we came to Iolanta, there were many ideas all too obviously on show.  The corner had transformed itself into a disused swimming pool in a Soviet-era psychiatric hospital with access from the upper level via a ladder you had to let down each time.  The swimming pool was adorned with some rose-bushes, a four-poster bed for Iolanta, and many tree roots for the poor blind girl to trip over.

The problem with all this is that Iolanta is very uneven–there are passages of strong passionate music like pure emotion and there is rather a lot of bombast, bluster and trash as well.  Enforcing all those breaks in the action as characters clambered into and out of the pool just underlined the unevenness.  I saw another production of this opera at the Guildhall a decade or so ago where the setting comprised a bare stage, a rosebush darkness, and darkness when required–that kept it going and it was wonderful.

On this occasion, I was impressed by how Natalya Romaniw (Iolanta) had completely mastered the vocal demands of her role.  I was also very taken by Sioned Gwen Davies as Marta–she genuinely seemed to be old and her Russian was very good as well.

At the end all the crap on stage tried to turn into stars amidst the darkness of night and it didn’t really work.

But all in all a highly enjoyable evening of opera, more so than the great majority of full-length productions I’ve been too recently.

(There are some interesting photos in Opera Britannia’s review here.)

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