Opera Holland Park – Pulcinella & Iolanta

Pulcinella – Ballet

Dancers: Lucy Anderson, Emi Azuma, Jordi Calpe Serrats, Alessandra Cito, Samuel Guy, Erin Harty, Maurizio Montis & Mikah Smillie

Carole Wilson (mezzo-soprano), Aled Hall (tenor) & Keel Watson (bass)

Regina Wielingen – Choreographer

Iolanta – Opera in one act to a libretto by Modeste Tchaikovsky after King Rene’s Daughter by Henrik Hertz [sung in Russian]

Iolanta – Orla Boylan
King Rene – Mikhail Svetlov
Vaudemont – Peter Auty
Robert – Mark Stone
Ibn-Hakia – Toby Stafford-Allen
Alméric – Aled Hall
Bertrand – Keel Watson
Martha – Carole Wilson
Brigitta – Sarah Redgwick
Laura – Patricia Orr

Annelise Miskimmon – Director

Opera Holland Park Chorus [Iolanta]

City of London Sinfonia
Stuart Stratford

Reviewed by: Alexander Campbell

Reviewed: 25 July, 2008
Venue: Opera Holland Park, London

This rather intriguing ballet and opera double bill is the final offering of this year’s Opera Holland Park season.

“Pulcinella” is presented on an almost bare stage with a black backdrop. To each side were four seats and a small table with glasses and water bottles. The eight dancers retreated to these when not performing – sometimes their moves to the tables seemed co-ordinated and part of the ‘action’ and at other times not. Regina Wielingen’s choreography is both visually varied and attractive. The dancers each had their moments in the spotlight and all displayed fine technique and character, and captured the different moods created by Stravinsky’s lively score.

In the pit not everything was quite on tip-top form , with some moments of patchy ensemble that will surely resolve at future performances. That being said there was some spirited playing from the brass in some of the more robust numbers. Stuart Stratford kept the piece moving. The three singers were placed at the back of the pit and balance was not ideal. Carole Wilson probably fared best, releasing her warm mezzo. Aled Hall struggled to be heard over the orchestra and whilst Keel Watson’s bass got through his singing was a tad blustery and not particularly idiomatic for Italian-Baroque pastiche.

Orla Boylan as Iolanta with the OHP Chorus. Photograph: Fritz CurzonTchaikovsky’s one-act opera, “Iolanta”, is a rather attractive piece with some wonderful orchestral and vocal writing. There has been a concert performance and at least one staging in London (at the Guildhall School of Music) in recent times, and although there is a fine recording under Valery Gergiev the opera remains rather unfamiliar.

On this showing one became aware that the central duet between Iolanta and Vaudemont is a pretty long and intensive sing. Orla Boylan and Peter Auty are respectively cast in these roles and they were at their best here; she with her rich and vibrant soprano and touching pathos and he with his exciting full and heady tenor coupled with a rather endearing presence. Auty managed to catch the character’s shocked awareness that the lady he has fallen in love with is blind without making it risible – no mean feat. There was a rather touching moment when Vaudemont took off his bookish spectacles to allow Iolanta to touch his face. Boylan did not always manage the blindness totally convincingly throughout, but that is a problem inherent in the plot.

Pater Auty as Vaudemont and Orla Boylan as Iolanta. Photograph: Fritz CurzonOf the other singers, the highly authoritative and idiomatic Russian bass of Mikhail Svetlov whose aria (interspersed with some police sirens from outside) was enthusiastically received. Mark Stone made much of his moment in the spotlight as the shallow Count Robert who has been betrothed to Iolanta since young but who is actually in love with another woman, Matilde. In the smaller roles Keel Watson sounded more at ease as Bertrand and Carole Wilson produced some wonderfully resonant singing in the lower depths of Marthe’s part. Despite an announcement of indisposition Toby Stafford-Allen was a strong Ibn-Hakia.

Annelise Miskimmon’s staging was set in Nicky Shaw’s semi-abstract and green-woodland sets. Initially, as Iolanta’s companions found her alone in the garden and went to find a straightjacket, I thought we were going to get a rather modernist view of the work – but then Iolanta was pacified by music from a wind-up gramophone and from then on the staging was traditional. Spatially the set threw up the odd problem. The first appearance of Robert and Vaudemont was one such instance where they appeared to be in the walled garden of King Rene’s palace; then they ran round the corner and climbed over the fence into exactly the space they had just left.

In the pit matters were much happier than for the Stravinsky; the players of the City of London Sinfonia made much of Tchaikovsky’s lyricism and romanticism. There was some wonderfully evocative and reedy playing from the oboist and clarinettist, and the harps made their mark. The bolder, almost martial music that accompanies Count Robert’s arrival was thrilling – and the chorus also made a full-toned contribution to the final ensemble. Much to enjoy!

  • Further performances on 29 & 31 July and 2, 6 & 8 August
  • Box Office: 0845 230 9769
  • Tickets £10.00 to £52.00 with some concessions
  • Opera Holland Park

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