Every year Opera Holland Park presents a new double bill of short opera. It’s a neat endeavour as it introduces audiences to opera that might not otherwise have seen the light of performance. In the hands of new creatives, singers and musicians, the bite-size works, lasting no more than forty-five minutes, give interesting insights into the early works of young composers, for typically they were written at the beginning of their music careers.
Last night saw the staging of Frederick Delius’s Margot La Rouge and Puccini’s Le Villi. Both operas deal with the avenging female driven to murder.
Delius’s Margot Le Rouge is set in a shady bar in Paris where pimps, pros and soldiers rub shoulders. The set and costumes could have come straight from a La Boheme production, showing Delius’s flirtation with verismo opera where gritty realism exposed the lives and woes of ordinary people.
In Delius’s opera, his music, in verismo guise, takes on an unexpected, dreamy direction. The score in performance was excellent, more ephemeral and less dramatic than Puccini let’s say. At least until the love finale. In this all-important love scene however, the volume was loaded towards the City of London orchestra. Anne-Sophie Duprels singing Margot, and Samuel Sakker, Sergeant Thibault, were marooned on the back lip of the stage, furthest from the audience. It was difficult to fully engage in their love scene as a result. They would have benefited from coming round to the forward ‘lip’ of the stage towards us.
Puccini’s Le Villi, was an immaculate production, the three principal singers, chorus and dancers wowing the audience at every turn. Here Anne Sophie Duprel’s expressive, heart-rending soprano really came to the fore and Peter Auty impressed, deftly pushing his Italianate tenor to the top notes without losing sight of his role as lover. Stephen Gadd warming, and at times, grief-stricken baritone, was infinitely moving.
In the prayer scene with chorus and principals, I thought I had been projected to heaven and back, and the dervish ring dance of the Villi was mesmerising. Dressed as brides, the Villi dancers were well choreographed, swirling their shroud-like veils and unrolling their extensive trains across the width of the stage like sticky tape. All this powered by Puccini’s exciting hunting score.
This was Puccini’s first opera and already the Puccini jewels are apparent, his talent for drama and wonderful vocals. What astonishes is the dream-like theme of the opera with avenging legendary spirits. Legend and magic would soon disappear in Puccini’s mature operas where verismo grittiness would take hold.
One performance left Saturday 6th August. Go!