Dorset Opera Festival 2015 at Bryanston

artofdcoOtelli Portrait 2AS the audience flooded out of the Coade Hall at Bryanston School on Saturday afternoon, a universal smile of happiness on their faces, it was clear that the 2015 production of Doni­zetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore was a triumph.

It was one of those productions where everything gelled, a delight for the ears and the eyes and a confirmation that comic opera need never be a sellout.

From the first bars of the overture, conducted by Timothy Henty, through the sets by Steve Howell, redolent of 1930s railway posters, to the energy of the performances, this was an afternoon at the opera to the cherished.

Director David Phipps-Davis had the inspiration of moving the setting from its original Italy to Dorset in wartime, with American soldiers charming the local girls and showing up the Dad’s Army Home Guard.

artofdcocapalboNemorino, the lovelorn young farm­hand pining for the capricious Adina, was played by Leonardo Capalbo, returning to Dorset Opera much to the delight of his many local fans. With his gloriously expressive lyric tenor voice, he brought a real poig­nancy and desperation to the role of the man who thinks he can buy love in a bottle of snake oil.

The seller is black marketeer “doctor” Dulcamara, in a hilariously over the top performance by the lanky John Molloy, ably supported by the young Dorset soprano Char­lotte Hewett as his lovely assistant.

Angela Mortellaro is a perfect Adina, flaunting her wealth, beauty and learning as she plays one man off against another. Seeming to prefer the egocentric US Sergeant Belcore (played to perfection by Jeremy Carpenter), she only realises she loves Nemorino when he’s suddenly surrounded by other women.

The chemistry between Adina and Nemorino was palpable, making her cruelty to the lovelorn young man and wayward flirtation with the handsome American soldier all the more convincing. They were a first-rate trio.

With strong characterisations by members of the Dorset Opera chorus, and direction which made clever use of the whole circular stage and the auditorium too, the production was evidently as enjoyable for the company as for the audience and the excellent orchestra. And even Lord Reginald Pickles deservedly got his own credit!

The second DO production for 2015 was Verdi’s darkly difficult work Il Ballo in Maschera, its story based on a real event in Swedish history, and here transposed to America.

artofdcokasyanRiccardo, Earl of Warwick and Governor of Boston, is much loved by his people, but he has attracted hatred and fury by those he has deposed and abused. His personal tragedy is to have fallen in love with his best friend’s wife.

Paul Carr’s production, set against the goldfish bowl of a monochrome  theatre facing the auditorium to increase its intensity, is full of danger and torment. Effective lighting, particularly in the gallows field scene, added to the escalating aura of doom.

Circled by plotters mingling with his loyal and loving subjects, Ricc­ardo (Luis Chapa) basks in adulation, tortured by guilt at loving Amelia (a stunning Dorset Opera debut for the young Russian soprano.)

There were many powerful scenes in this production, but a lack of chemistry between Riccardo and Amelia – who hardly looked at each other – undermined the personal tragedy. There was a much stronger connection between Amelia and her husband Renato, played by Claudio Otelli, who embodied this noble character torn between loyalty to his friend and jealousy at his wife’s apparent infidelity.

Sr Chapa also had the distinct disadvantage of a costume that made him look somewhere between John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever and a flashy snooker player, incongruous in an otherwise subtly costumed production.

One impressive directorial idea was the almost constant presence on stage of the top-hatted, black-clad assassins, heightening the tension from the opening scene.

Rosalind Plowright, making a welcome return to the Dorset Opera stage, was simply terrific as Ulrica, the sorceress (here, a psychic), and Elizabeth Bailey was a delightful Oscar, singing her witty and enchanting songs blissfully unaware of the dark drama unfolding around her.

Dorset Opera has to find works with sufficiently large chorus requirements to suit its summer school ethos. However, in this production that led to some uncomfortably crowded scenes that would have benefitted dramatically from smaller numbers.

Overall, with the calibre of soloists and musicians, this year’s Dorset Opera Festival reached even higher standards. Under artistic director Rod Kennedy, this has become one of the summer’s most anticipated (national) musical events.

Next year, opera lovers can look forward to Dorset Opera tackling one of the masterpieces of the Russian repertoire, Eugene Onegin, as part of the festival, from 26th to 30th July 2016. The second opera will be announced in the coming months.


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