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RODERIC DUNNETT reports from the continuing Opera Festival


 << Continued from yesterday 

The remainder of the 48th Wexford Opera season served up both visual spectacle and aural delights: Karl Goldmark's Die Königin von Saba (The Queen of Sheba) benefited greatly from an imaginatively stylised staging by Patrick Mailler. A scene from Karl Goldmark's 'The Queen of Sheba'. Photo copyright (c) Derek SpeirsA few simple gestures, based partly on temple drawings, and almost ritually repeated (some might say done to death), combined with smoothly sliding horizontal flats, eloquent moves (particularly those of the King) and some superb use of static visuals (the Queen of Sheba's prostration before the enthroned Solomon and his full court was a moment of awesome magnificence).

Cornelia Helfricht as The Queen of Sheba. Photo copyright (c) Derek Speirs

Max Wittges and Mauro Nicoletti in a scene from 'The Queen of Sheba'. Photograph copyright (c) Derek SpeirsMassimo Gasparon's costumes, with their rewarding cluster of bold colours - scarlet starkness for the (blind) King Solomon, nasturtium yellow for the fallen heldentenor hero, Assad, turquoise and blue for the queen and her handmaiden, stark white for the chorus) produced a Klimtian sumptuousness to rival Strauss's Salome. By the second, if not the first, night (when auditorium formalities for the Irish President slightly eclipsed the visual ceremonies on stage) everything had come together. Conductor Claude Schnitzler began to reveal some of the magic of a score that might otherwise have had its longueurs.

Max Wittges (a beautifully mellow-voiced baritone for Solomon), Cornelia Helfricht (vividly alluring in the title role), the superbly acid cutting voice of Inka Rinn (Sulamith ) and the majesty of Piotr Nowacki (High Priest - and later Skoluba in the Moniuszko) were among the (vocally and visually) impressive performers. The smooth, unflappable Baal-Hanaan (Solomon's major-domo) of Vladimir Glushchak was a piece of cool and carefully plotted acting (as well as effectively focused singing) which added vastly to this production's visual impact. Mauro Nicoletti made initial hard work of the opera's Tannhaüser-cum-Dalibor hero, who falls prey to the Queen and pays the price for their secret amours; by the second night, and with far better pacing, the slight tedium of the opening night disappeared and the true beauty of Goldmark's score (which Hanslick admired and Mahler, no less, conducted, and which grows ever more darkly chromatic and forward-looking as the later acts are unveiled) began to emerge.

Wexford's third 'rediscovery' proved not only fascinating and tuneful, but a rip-roaring audience success (to judge by the cheering and stamping in the aisles). Moniuszko's Straszny Dwór (The Haunted Manor) - virtually Poland's national opera, a dazzling example of tunefulness and wit cloaking a profoundly serious subtext ...

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Copyright © Roderic Dunnett, October 24th 1999 


Die Königin von Saba is sponsored by Independent News & Media PLC.

Festival continues till Oct 31 (Box Office : +353 53 22144; Office : 22400).

The Wexford Festival Opera website, giving detailed information about this year's operas plus a further selection of colour photos, can be visited at

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