I didn’t see the original run of this production in 2007 so was not caught up in comparing the two, although I’m aware that it was highly acclaimed then.
There are good things in this revival; overall the singing’s of a very acceptable standard and the orchestra plays well under the secure conducting of Canadian Yves Abel. The revival is directed by Christian Rath, who has clearly stuck closely to the original production including dated stagecraft, silly gimmicks like the villagers wearing saucepans on their heads as helmets as they prepare to attack the French and the cardboard cut-out nature of much of the acting.
As Marie, Patrizia Ciofi is unconvincing as a teenage vivandiere. It’s unfortunate as she sings well, particularly displaying the more mature side of Marie’s character and possibly beginning to feel more comfortable on the Opera House stage.
It’s certainly worth seeing to hear the remarkable singing of Colin Lee as Tonio. He previously shared the role with Florez but his is a secure and acceptable portrayal of Tonio with the top C’s in “Ah Mes Amis” bringing the house down. He shows great musicality in the shaping of his arias as well as sensitivity and roundness of tone. He’s a bel canto star in the making.
Ann Murray and Donald Maxwell play the Marquise and her steward with admirable aplomb and Alan Opie gives a sterling and convincing performance as Sergeant Surplice. I’m afraid that Ann Widdicombe is a total embarrassment on stage and brings nothing to the role of the Duchesse.
This is an opera which is difficult to handle convincingly because the plot is so daft. However, there’s a limit as to how far one can go before it just becomes plain silly, and I felt that the line had been crossed on several occasions. Revivals are also risky when neither the original director nor cast are involved. They can be competent but lacking in the theatrical magic of the original. I can only feel, in summary, that this production tries too hard and bears this out.
- John Bird