Monday 16 July 2012

Opera Holland Park - Double Bill with Christine Collins Young Artists

Gianni Schicchi in rehearsal (OHP Young Artists) (c) Alex Brenner
Gianni Schicchi in rehearsal
OHP Young Artists
(c) Alex Brenner
For the Saturday matinee (14 July) at Opera Holland Park, the performance of their double bill of Masgagni's Zanetto and Puccini's Gianni Schicchi featured the Christine Collins Young Artists in the Puccini. Thanks to Mrs Collins's sponsorship, this is the first year that Opera Holland Park have been able to turn their support for young artists, into a fully fledged emerging artists performance.

Mascagni's Zanetto, performed by the main festival cast, is a rather slight piece lasting just 40 minutes and involving two singers. Sylvia (Janice Watson) and Zanetto (Patricia Orr). For so thin a plot, amazingly, the work was based on a play (Le Passant by Francois Coppee) which had even been performed in by Sarah Bernhardt.

Sylvia is a mature actress (a courtesan in the original libretto), who laments that as she has said no to a number of men, she is in danger of being alone for ever. A young itinerant minstrel, Zanetto appears (in this production he breaks in). Sylvia is attracted to him and suggests he might partake of her hospitality. He makes it clear that he would think of her only as a sister. As he goes to leave he says that he is going to seek out Sylvia, who he has heard is very beautiful. Agonised, Sylvia does not reveal who she is and dissuades him from his quest, and he leaves.

Sarah Bernhardt as Zanetto in Le Passant by Francois Coppee
Bernhardt as Zanetto
in Le Passant
The piece is full of nearlies, its melodies are attractive but only nearly memorable, the drama only nearly catches fire, and all Sylvia's agonising is not nearly life threatening enough.

Under conductor Matthew Waldren, the City of London Sinfonia sang their way through Mascagni's score, giving the long breathed melodies life. As Sylvia, Janice Watson was touching and sang with an elegant line. But her voice is not particularly Italianate, and you felt that Mascagni's vocal writing called for a larger degree of Italianate freedom at the top.

Patricia Orr was an attractive and charming Zanetto, not really very masculine and saddled with a rather awful wig. She sang with shapely elegance.

You felt that this was an occasional work which would only really take wing when sung by a pair of singers who combined star quality with real Italianate delivery. Watson and Orr gave the work an intelligent and musical outing, but the piece did not convince. 

Martin Lloyd-Evans's production was straightforward and sympathetic. Susannah Harvey's set was a fixed one, depicting Sylvia's room, relatively simple but attractive; settings were firmly in the late 19th century. For Gianni Schicchi the same basic set was used, this time set as Buoso Donati's room, Puccini's opera being transported to the 1950's. Again, quite simple, but effective; after all Gianni Schicchi doesn't need an elaborate set.

Christine Collins Young Artists and Alan Opie in Gianni Schicchi (c) Kasete Skeen
Christine Collins Young Artists and Alan Opie in Gianni Schicchi
(c) Kasete Skeen
The title role was sung by Alan Opie, from the main festival cast and the remainder of the roles were sung by the Christine Collins Young Artists, some of whom are doing small roles in other operas during this season. Martin Lloyd-Evans's production was rehearsed associate director Oliver Platt. The result was a very choreographed, physical theatre, with the young singers working very well together as an ensemble.

More than particular singers, what was impressed the most was how the singers had coalesced into a flexible enthusiastic and rather slick ensemble, both in vocal and theatrical terms. The production was stylised, physical theatre but without any over doing it, or anyone sticking out.

Apart from the title role, Puccini's vocal writing is very much an ensemble piece, with individual voices contributing to a whole. Using young singers meant that Laura Woods and Timothy Dickinson as Zita and Simone had the greatest physical challenge, that of depicting old age. Wisely, Woods as Zita did not attempt to age but simply delivered a performance of stunningly comic gravitas, there was a solidity to Zita that conveyed volumes, she wasn't someone to be messed with. Timothy Dickinson as Simone had less choice, Simone needs to be old and Dickinson successfully conveyed age without resorting to too much caricature.

Christina Petrou, playing Lauretta, showed herself well able to command all eyes, centre stage, during O mio babino caro. Her voice warmly rich, it lacked that ideal sense of line that I appreciate. Adam Tunnicliffe's Rinuccio was a dapper, energetic stage presence though his voice did not seem quite relaxed enough in the top register. He and Petrou made a believable and charming couple.

The older couples, Gherardo and Nella, Marco and Ciesca were played with slickness and nicely understated bravura by Leonel Pinheiro, Maud Millar, Laurence Meikle and Chloe Hilton. Aiden Smith was a wonderfully disreputable Betto.

As Schicchi, Alan Opie was a complete delight. He was entirely integrated into the production, it didn't feel like someone grafted in. And his playing of Schicchi, seedy and disreputable but just on the right side with some brilliantly comic timing, without it ever seeming a stunt. The scene where he used Donati's body as a ventriloquists dummy was hysterically funny.

There were elements of the production which rather reminded me of other recent productions of the opera, but as a whole it added up into a crisply comic performance which was very funny. At the end, Lloyd-Evans and Henry had a trick up their sleeve; for Lauretta and Rinuccio's duet, the walls of the set parted to reveal the lovers on a bridge with a painting of a cityscape of Florence behind them. Simple but extremely effective.

I do hope that this performance represents the start of an annual event at Opera Holland Park. The performance of Gianni Schicchi was a superb showcase for the artists and a perfect afternoon's opera.

See our Festival pages:
Buxton Festival 2012
Opera Holland Park 2012
Grange Park Opera 2012
City of London Festival 2012

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