Wexford Festival Opera 2019 Review: L’Inganno Felice
Ella Marchment’s Direction Balances Comedy, Violence & MelancholiaBy Alan Neilson
(Photo: Paula Malone)
Rossini’s one act farsa, “L’inganno felice,” premiered in 1812 at Venice’s Teatro San Moise and was an instant success for the young, 19-year-old composer. However, along with most of his other operas, it faded from view following his death in 1868.
Even the renewed interest in Rossini’s work following the Second World War has done little to re-establish its reputation. However, in very recent years it does seem to be making something of a come-back. Without purposefully seeking out the work, this production at Wexford is the third production I have seen in the past four years, and there have been numerous others.
Farsa Or Semi-Seria?
Although Rossini defined the work as a farsa, it could have equally have been described as an opera semi-seria; its underlying story is built upon attempted murder, kidnap, sexual avarice and violence, yet is interlaced with comedic interludes, a buffo character in the form of Batone, and, of course concludes with a happy ending. Apart than for comedic effect, nothing is done to excess, and emotions are always well-tempered. Likewise, the music alternates between reflective melancholia and typical Rossini breezy melodies.
Ella Marchment, the director, approached the work from this position. Without neglecting the comedy, she engaged with the serious issues of the piece, so that it was clear that this happy tale is one predicated on violence.
The story is based around the figure of Isabella, who was set adrift on the sea to die, for rejecting the sexual advances of Ormondo, who has convinced her husband, Duca Bertrando, that she has been unfaithful to him. Obviously, she survives, and is washed up in a mining town, rescued by Tarabotto, who passes her off as his niece, Nisa. Ten years later, Bertrando, Ormondo and his side-kick, Batone arrive in the town, and so the fun begins, in which Ormondo realizing the danger he now faces wants Isabella abducted and then killed.
During the overture Marchment set out her clear vision. In a dream sequence Isabella reflects on her past. She dreams of the intimidating figures of Ormondo and Batone watching her from the shadows, when her husband, Bertrando, arrives for an energetic sex session, with the result that she forced into giving birth. The danger, the passion and the comedy are all on display.
Turning To Stereotypes
Marchment creates stereotypical characters in order to move the action along rapidly, so that Ormondo is portrayed as nothing short of psychopathic, Bertrand is all love and regret with flowers embroidered onto his white jacket, and Batone is a cowardly buffo character, although Tarabotto and Isabella are more finely drawn.
The sets designed by Luca Dalbosco were imaginative and worked well. Made up of dirty, old, brown wooden door frames, stools and tables with lamps and canary in a cage, it gave a good impression of a mining town. A black hole at the back of the stage acted as a mine, into which Ormondo was thrown at the end. Boards were then nailed on to keep him there, and a sign added to warn people of the danger within.
Comedy scenes were well-presented, while Ormondo’s underlying violence was a real and ever present threat. Isabella’s melancholia was neatly portrayed, as was her joy in finding the love of her husband once more. What did not work, however, was the homosexual bond that developed between Batone and Tarabotto, ending with them kissing each other and Batone developing an erection and having to throw cold water over his trousers.
Admittedly, some in the audience did find it hilarious, others around me sat grim faced. Either way, it was not shocking! Rather, it appeared contrived and forced and came over as an example of misplaced tokenism, and detracted from what would otherwise have been an excellent staging.
Soprano Rebecca Hardwick playing the role of Isabella put in a confident acting performance, in which she caught the character’s changing emotional state. She also gave a lively singing presentation, in which she showed off the bright luster of voice. Her delicately crafted phrasing was used to capture her deep melancholia, which was wonderfully displayed in the opening duet with Tarabotto,”Cosa dite! Ma cosa dite.”
Tarabotto, was essayed by the baritone, Peter Brooks, who gave an earthy portrayal of Isabella’s “uncle.” Dressed in typical working class clothing, he looked the part. He gave an expansive and convincing acting performance, which he supported with some fine singing.
Tenor Huw Ynyr played the role of Duca Bertrando as a one dimensional good character, who was duped owing to his gullible nature. His clean-faced image was reinforced by his neat and tidy flowery attire. His singing was equally pleasing, displaying an attractive and even tone, and all done with little sign of distress, either vocally or physically.
Thomas D Hopkinson was a fast-moving and energetic Batone. He has an attractive bass, with array of colors. His articulation is clear and his acting was intelligently thought through. He shows real potential for playing buffo parts in the future.
Bass Henry Grant Kerswell really enjoys playing the psychopath, or at least he appears to do so. Having made such a powerful impression as the vicious and demented leader of a band of bandits in “Don Quichotte,” he repeated the act, but this time he is a more controlled psychopath, in the role of Ormondo. He was nevertheless still a frightening spectacle, his snarling, aggressive dark voice appropriately expressing the instability and violence of the character.
The pianist for the performance was Giorgio D’Alonzo, who produced a wonderful accompaniment; drawing a sharply contoured reading, his playing was crisp, clean and precise. It was also nicely balanced with the singing, and was not insignificant in adding to the success of the production.
Despite the unnecessary fooling about with the erection, this was a really entertaining production which combined the comedy, menace and melancholy of the work, which with the aid of good acting and singing from the cast, enabled Rossini’s work to show its worth.