Lontano at Wilton’s Music Hall
My first visit to Wilton’s Music Hall was the opening night of Fiona Shaw’s solo performance of Wastelands. I remember well that it was freezing cold, the seats were hard, and the general appearance of the building was that it was about to fall down. How times have changed. Although it still has far to go, Wilton’s is well on the way to being an established venue which, even at -2C outside, was warm enough within to allow the audience to accept that they might be in Corsica, which is the setting for Nicola LeFanu’s new one act opera Dream Hunter. In Corsica the word mazzere denotes a woman who is gifted with second sight, often linked with death. They dream of hunting and killing game, and then find that someone in their village falls sick and dies.
Domenico, a widowed small time farmer in nineteenth century Sicily, has two daughters of marriageable age, the elder of the two, Angela, is on the verge of becoming betrothed to Sampiero the son of the local Mayor. Her younger sister, Catarina, has knowledge of the fact that he is a philanderer, but what neither of them know is that he is also a gambler and owes their father a sum of money. It is evening and the two sisters prepare the evening meal together. Angela is hoping that when Sampiero arrives later on he will confirm their betrothal and is keen to make a good impression while Catarina is troubled by both the fact that most of her father’s land will go as Angela’s dowry and also that she had a strange dream the previous night of hunting and wounding a hare.
Corsicans have a very deeply held set of traditional conventions one of which Sampiero breaks on arriving early to see the girls before their father has returned. When Angela goes to her bedroom to prepare herself Sampiero makes advances to Catarina, whom he obviously fancies more than he does Angela, but she tries to deter him. Then their father returns having himself broken another convention in that he has shot a wild boar out of season. He is worried that Sampiero might tell his father the Mayor.
After they have eaten, the two men set too on a bottle of brandy leaving the women with their troubled thoughts. Domenico falls asleep under the influence of the brandy, and the two girls meanwhile have gone to bed. Sampiero visits Catarina’s room where she is asleep and makes advances to which she succumbs, Angela is disturbed by the noise and discovers what is going on, Sampiero makes his getaway and the girls go down to their father and report what has occurred. Domenico goes out after Sampiero for a father’s revenge
A simple and emotionally strong tale on the surface but behind this theatrical mask lie the issues of the age long struggle for women to have more freedom of choice and the more recent phenomenon of being able to discern reality from virtual reality.
I found this a very satisfying musical experience from several stand-points. The score and instrumentation are perfect for the action and LeFanu shows a masterly command of composing for the voice. There are wonderful moments of sheer lyricism punctuated by the harshness of man’s darker and more sinister characteristics. Catarina is performed with great clarity and emotion by Charmian Bedford more than ably coupled with Caryl Hughes’ sympathetic rendering of Angela. Brian Smith Walters (Sampiero) and Jeremy Huw Williams (Domenico) are rather left in the dark due to the totally unsympathetic characters they both have to play. Both of them however sing with great conviction and are essential to what is a real ensemble performance. This supported by a simple but effective set and good direction shows that Dream Hunter is a piece that deserves a place in the regular opera repertoire.
The opera is preceded by two short instrumental works. A trio in four movements for flute viola and harp by Libby Larsen shows great lyricism almost to the point of speaking to the audience so voic- like were the lines. There are some fascinating uses of contrapuntal style, particularly in the third movement. The other, Annea Lockwood’s Monkey Trips , commendably played and acted by members of Lontano is less effective and reminded me of the now defunct Gogmagogs, who combined acting with music playing in a more effective way.
- John Bird