Written by: Amended and edited version of Opera Holland Park's press release
Opera Holland Park, owned and managed by The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, has enjoyed escalating critical acclaim since its first production in 1996. A major part of that acclaim has come for the hugely challenging repertory choices it has made – and succeeded with. In recent years the company 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, Richard 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.
That a company like OHP should produce such works to such acclaim is a remarkable feat of artistic bravery and audiences have rewarded (and have been rewarded by) the company by selling out productions, proving that a significant appetite for these rich and sumptuous melodramas exists in the UK.
Now Opera Holland Park 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 as Cavaradossi 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.
“Interestingly, these ‘rare’ operas also appeal to those who either don’t know or who listen to opera rarely. That tends to be the case because they don’t have a well-developed taste in opera and haven’t settled into the pattern of the traditional top ten works that lots of audience members do. They hear the music for the first time and find it enormously appealing. It is true to say that many of these composers were not always able to sustain an entire opera or did not have the theatrical sensibilities of Puccini or Verdi who managed to continue producing great works for decades. But, in my view, there are countless sections in these operas – and especially Francesca – whose music surpasses pretty much anything Puccini or Verdi wrote. And that is, I think, what audiences love – they find themselves pinned to their seats by passages of music that are more beautiful than anything they may have already heard! It is a terribly exciting thing to see thousands of people discovering this for the first time.”
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.