Tag Archives: Craig Smith

Il tabarro and Gianni Schicchi

reviewed at the Snape Maltings on 14 April

“Opera that moves” is the ETO motto – and it was worth skipping the bar in the interval to watch the comic drama of the scene change between the two contrasted outer panels of Puccini’s original triptych.

Audiences often discount what happens behind the front curtain, this exposé of the rapid hard work involved certainly earned its final round of applause.

Neil Irish’s rust and wood setting on three levels for Il tabarro and Rory Beaton’s subdued lighting plot suit the gritty savagery of the story. Above the main action life has some hope of normality. Below it, this is only the stench of hopeless degradation.

Craig Smith’s Michele, the Seine barge owner, is a brooding presence as his suspicions of his wife’s infidelity with one of the stevedores are fuelled. His final explosion of anger in “Nulla! Silenzio” before the inevitable dénouement is well paced and phrased.

Giorgetta’s unhappiness, as much for the loss of her child as a yearning of her childhood home at Belleville and desire for Charne Rochford’s Luigi, also builds slowly and Sarah-Jane Lewis has the vocal resources to manage this.

In James Conway’s production, Rochford’s portrait of a young man raging against his lot in life yet unable to effect any immediate change to better this world rings true.

The smaller character parts are equally well cast, with Clarissa Meek’s Frugola outstanding among them. it’s a neat touch to have the young lovers played by Galina Averina and Luciano Botelho, the Lauretta and Rinuccio of Gianni Schicchi.

This also has a fin du siècle setting but suitably elaborate for the (deceased) wealthy Buoso and his horde of grasping relations. These superficial predators come over as a miscellany to delight any connoisseur’s eye.

Andrew Slater has the audience on his side from his first entrance, a no-nonsense Florentine new-comer in fresh-air contrast to the over-dressed Buoso kindred. His recounting of the penalties for will-forgery make their mark.

Timothy Dawkins-wild-haired ex-mayor and the female trio of Meek as the elderly Zita, Joanna Skillett as Nella and Emma Watkinson as La Ciesca throw the genuine passion between Lauretta and Rinuccio into proper focus.

Averina’s show-stopping “Oh! mio babbino caro” has a visual punch-line which doesn’t quite fit in, causing a false ending with applause thus in the wrong place. Michael Rosewell is the conductor for both operas; Liam Steel is the director for Gianni Schicchi.

Four and a half-star rating.

Il tabarro and Gianni Schicchi are at the Cambridge Arts Theatre on 18 and 19 April and at the Norwich Theatre Royal on 5 May.

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Filed under Music Music theatre & opera, Reviews 2018

Il furioso all’isola di San Domingo / The Wild Man of the West Indies
(reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 25 March)

ETO (English Touring Opera) continues its exploration of the operas of Donizetti, both those virtually unknown to a modern audience and more established repertoire pieces with this new production of an 1833 piece based on one of the tales-withn-a-tale in Cervantes’ Don Quixote. This one tells of Cardenio, a Spanish gentleman driven mad when he discovers that his wife Eleonora has had an affair with his own brother Fernando.

Escaping the home he now cannot bear to inhabit, he has been washed up on the Spanish possession of San Domingo. The plantation slaves fear him but the overseer’s daughter Marcella pities him (her father is somewhat ambiguous in his attitude). Subsequently a shipwreck leaves a battered and hardly conscious Eleonora on the shore, followed by Fernando himself.

So far the plot seems set to be a straightforward drama which might, or might not, have a happy ending. Cervantes, librettist Jacopo Ferreetti and Donizetti have conspired to give us a species of tragi-comedy, thanks to the introduction of the most three-dimensional character in the opera. This is the salve Kaidamà, brilliently portrayed by Peter Brathwaite. Kaidamà not only has some of the best tunes; he is also the timeless and instantly recognisable wheeler-dealer survivor.

With the exception of the excellent Donna Bateman as Marcella, so kind-hearted that she’s bound to find herself bypassed when Cardenio (Craig Smith) and the sweet-voiced Eleonora (Sally Silver) finally reconcile. Smith sings and acts with great intensity; so does Njabulo Madlala as Bartolomeo, torn between natural human compassion and his duty to his employer.

The week link at the performance I attended was Nicholas Sharratt’s Fernando. It’s not the most forgiving of tenor roles, let alone the most sympathetic, but I felt he was straining after his top notes at the end of his two arias.Director Iqbal Khan keeps the stage movement, notably that of the all-male chorus slave chorus, persuasive as the cast clamber up, under and around Florence de Mare’s set which suggests part of the skeleton of some enormous beached sea-monster.

Jeremy Slver conducts the ETO orchestra with respect for the score and the performers. It’s no fault by anyone on-stage or in the creative team that, for me, this genre felt slightly unnatural and as though the composer wasn’t completely at ease with it, as he had been for L’elisir d’amore (1832) which preceded it and Lucia di Lammermoor (1835) which followed.

Il furioso all’isola di San Domingo also plays at the Snape Maltings Concert Hall on 17 April and the Arts Theatre, Cambridge on 27 May.

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