Opera Holland Park – Verdi’s Stiffelio (24 July)

Stiffelio [Sung in Italian with English Surtitles]

Stiffelio – Geraint Dodd
Lina – Katarina Jovanovic
Stankar – John Rawnsley
Jorg – Keel Watson
Raffaele – Nicholas Ransley
Dorothea – Carole Wilson
Federico – Thomas Walker

Holland Park Opera Chorus
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
John Gibbons

Martin Lloyd-Evans – Director
Jessica Curtis – Designer
Simon Corder – Lighting

Reviewed by: Paul Hutchinson

Reviewed: 24 July, 2003
Venue: Opera Holland Park, London W8

Three cheers for Holland Park Opera for mounting a neglected mid-period work of Verdi. For all the talk of rescuing rarely heard pieces, and although there may be attempts to rectify this, the number of productions of Verdi’s ’galley years’ oeuvre is well below par. With gratitude, then, for this opportunity to acquaint (or re-acquaint for those fortunate to see the Royal Opera’s production a few years ago).

Stiffelio was premiered in Trieste in 1850. Verdi was not overwhelmed by it’s reception and the censors had a field day with the libretto. With a lukewarm reception, Verdi wasn’t keen that the work should circulate. This would eventually be remedied when he re-worked the story as Aroldo some seven years later.

In Stiffelio, the lumpiness of parts of Piave’s libretto, are incongruously against Verdi’s music. At the opening we are thrown into a storyline in which a third of the events have already taken place. This ensures that we do not see Lina’s gradual fall from grace. Later on, in the penultimate scene where Stiffelio has concealed Raffaele secretly in an adjoining room, Stankar kills him off-stage and simply tells Stiffelio what has happened. Such non-drama is carried through the action by Verdi’s inventive and dramatic score.

There is much to enjoy. The ensemble writing for one. The Septet near the end of Act One is superb; Stiffelio vowing to unleash his wrath at his terrible discovery; the servants lamenting the suspicion that has befallen the community, and Lina begging Stiffelio to be gentle with her ageing father, Stankar. The same goes for the duets. Lina and her father, and, later, with Stiffelio. Very well rehearsed and superbly sung. All the choruses are done with true conviction.

As Stiffelio, Geraint Dodd was worthy. Singing with a somewhat covered tone at the start, his voice shone out well in Act 2. His crucial duet with Lina where he cunningly tries to get her to say she still loves Raffaele – who is, unknown to Lina, concealed in the next room – was moving. KatarinaJovanovic as Lina seemed a bit daunted by the role. She sang well, especially the aria in the graveyard at her Mother’s tomb. But there were times when a little more projection was needed. She has to win our sympathies for her repentance, and the wrong that is being meted out to her. No doubt, this will emerge more fully during the run.

Stankar, Lina’s father, is sung and acted excellently by John Rawnsley. A veteran of the famous ’Mafia’ Rigoletto at ENO in the 80’s, Rawnsley caught the father’s moral indignation at his daughter’s dilemma; although missing is some of the role’s dangerous anger – by Rawnsley’s rolling of his moustache, or the removal and replacement of his spectacles.

The supporting performances are all well performed, especially Keel Watson’s Jorg – an ever-present,ever-vigilant, watchful eye on sinners and saints alike. Nicholas Ransley’s Raffaele grasped his big moments in his duet with Lina, as well as the ensuing fight scene. Carole Wilson’s Dorothea and Thomas Walker’s Fedrerico also gave good, well-sung support.

John Gibbons’s conducting gets better. After some scrappy playing at the beginning of the overture, the orchestra responded superbly to him with good ensemble playing and well-phrased solos. John Ellwood’s trumpet solo warmed the audience to what was to follow: ’Ah yes, this is Verdi, this feels good’ it seemed to be saying.

Another success, Holland Park. But, once again, I’ve got say, please do something with those wretched surtitles. Either make them bigger and clearer, or just get rid of them!

  • Holland Park
  • Box Office 0845 230 9767
  • Further performances on August 1, 4, 6 & 8 @ 7.30

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