Thursday, 23 April 2015

Dulcamara-sur-mer (ETO Wild Man of the West Indies)

Donizetti, Il Furioso all’isola di San Domingo (Jeremy Silver cond. ETO)

Heard of Il Furioso all’isola di San Domingo? Heard it? You would be forgiven if the answer to these is no; you can have a recording of it (on Cantus Classics/Line Music – which I reckon would be almost unbearable, but it can only be a matter of time until Opera Rara records it. Interim, it can be summoned on Spotify. There may be up to a thousand neglected Donizetti operas mustering in music libraries (actually he wrote about 70: see this list on Wikipedia).
So why do these lie gathering dust? The music is beautiful. In the case of Il Furioso, slightness of plot is the answer. Man is separated from wife after she cheats on him; he is driven mad; she is thrown on island by shipwreck; he rejects her; jumps in sea in his madness, comes to senses; duelling with wife; when she turns gun on herself rather than shooting him, he realises her love is real; happily ever after. There’s a bit more to it, but not much.
What fills the time then? Well mainly a hearty slice of Donizetti’s music– even if rather thinly-spread with plot. Musically it starts all a bit Don Giovanni; and there is more than a whiff of Rossini (think Il Barbiere) about it. But for the main part, it was just good old Donizetti. If the sea-water served to bring Cardenio, it might as well have been Dulcamara’s Bordeaux Wine bottled as Elisir. A handful of fine arias set off the thing to make a more than tolerable way to spend an evening.
Who is doing this? ETO, essentially a shoe-string operation, with no real permanent base, takes opera to places which might not otherwise see opera; and operas which might not otherwise see these places; it also commissions new works, and it is not all in English despite what the name suggests. Last year I saw their Flute (in translation- the same as the WNO production last month), and Britten’s Paul Bunyan which pushes at the door leading into the music hall.
You might expect a tight operation to go for crowd pleasers (à la Ellen Kent). But they don’t. There’s a bit of that – when I relented on Saturday, I discovered that La bohème had sold out for Monday night, so I didn’t go to that; but the Wild Man was only about half-full. The economics might make any producer break out in a cold sweat. Presumably popular stuff pays for the more obscure. 
Richard Hubert Smith/ ETO
The staging was simple, and really quite disappointing. The set has to fit the smallest theatre. But it was uninspired, and designer (Florence de Maré ha)d stretched out a large piece of cloth and arbitrary coloured lights (Mark Howland) were projected on to this, without any apparent meaning. A sort of damaged boat/wicker affair (see rear of image) suggested some kind of maritime theme. Somehting in the distance suggested a beach. We were supposed to be on San Domingo: but nothing really suggested this. We might well have been on Aldeburgh beach. 
Richard Hubert Smith/ ETO
One reason the opera might have dipped in popularity is that it was written in 1833, but features a fairly uncritical representation of slavery. The large whip brandished by Bartolomeo (Njabulo Madlala) in this production was about as much as we got down this route , even if the costumes fitted this idiom too. There’s no way this opera would support more inventive interpretations or transpositions.
Richard Hubert Smith/ ETO
Cardenio (Craig Smith) was superb, as was Eleonora (Sally Silver). These two could really sing. Silver's costume (above) showed wonderfully the decay of higher-status woman. Kaidamà (Peter Brathwaite) brought a great deal of humour to the production. Nicholas Sharratt (Fernando) seemed to struggle at times. Given his pedigree – which according to the programme includes Glyndebourne, Wigmore Hall and Opera North – when he was fine in the Coronation, I can only assume it was an off night.
More than anything, I was impressed by Jeremy Silver’s conducting and the playing from the pit, which even if the score was somewhat slight, was an unreserved delight. I presume this is a scratch orchestra, and all may hold their heads high.

Overall: given the nature of the set up, really not that bad - please keep coming, and bringing such exotic treats.

Details of tour and production here.

Jeremy Silver - Conductor
Iqbal Khan - Director
Florence de Maré - Designer
Mark Howland - Lighting Designer
Nicholas Sharratt - Fernando
Sally Silver - Eleonora
Craig Smith - Cardenio
Njabulo Madlala - Bartolomeo
Donna Bateman - Marcella
Peter Brathwaite - Kaidamà

No comments:

Post a Comment