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Zandonai Rarity Crowns Holland Park’s Opera Season

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In recent years, Opera Holland Park has produced new productions of Montemezzi’s masterpiece of late, symbolist verismo L’amore dei tre Re, Cilea’s L’arlesiana (twice) and Adriana Lecouvreur, Mascagni’s Iris and L’amico Fritz, Giordano’s Fedora and Andrea Chenier and Ponchielli’s La Gioconda.  

The significant factor joining all of these works is the late Italian giovane scuola movement that flourished in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These composers, many of them influenced by Wagner, Strauss, Debussy and others were trying to create a new Italian age of opera that sought to blend the new ‘sounds’ coming from Germany with the innate Italian sentiments of the time. The soundscape they created referred heavily to the work of Wagner and in particular his Tristan; some of the most inventive operatic writing in Italian history emerged from this movement.

Now the company is preparing to unleash the latest offering from this rich musical stable: Riccardo Zandonai’s Francesca da Rimini, a glorious, magnificent opera of mesmerising beauty and accomplishment. Starring international soprano Cheryl Barker and Julian Gavin (who recently excelled in ENO’s Tosca) and a host of exciting emergent talent, OHP’s Francesca is a rare treat and a significant operatic event this year.

Michael Volpe, General Manager of Opera Holland Park says: ‘Opera can easily settle into the stale and dogmatic. The opera audience – or at least a significant part of it – wants to explore the repertoire and develop their tastes. So much unspeakably gorgeous music exists out there but which is simply not being heard and we are proud to have expanded the repertoire in London over the past 12 years or so.

“As a council run venue, it is quite remarkable that we should be able to continue to present works whose in-built accessibility and beauty appeals to so many people out there. We have people coming from all over the world to see these works when we do them – which says something about the adventurousness or otherwise of opera companies around the globe.”

Francesca da Rimini is based on a Gabriele D’Annunzio poem which was itself extracted from a section of Dante’s Inferno. It is all about war, love, duplicity and murder on a grand scale (typical of these composers) and brings to the stage a potent, shimmering soundscape with magical writing for the orchestra and chorus.

You can find out more about the production in Robert Thicknesse’s podcast interview with Michael Volpe at OHP’s website.  It’s a fascinating conversation, in which Michael explains his unique choice of repertoire, OHP’s tradition of giovane scuola works, and his thoughts on why Francesca is only rarely performed.

In addition, Robert and Michael explore the history of the verismo and giovane scuola traditions, the characteristics of their composers, and in particular the literary and musical influences that shaped Zandonai’s own works. Interspersed with beautiful and haunting excerpts from the Francesca score, this interview offers a tantalizing preview of OHP’s most anticipated production of 2010.

The opera opens at the Holland Park theatre on 30 July and  runs in repertoire until 13 August.  Tickets (£10 to £55) can be booked on 0845 230 9769 or at www.operahollandpark.com


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