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Nor is it any mean feat for any company, large or small, permanent or cobbled-together to amass an adept cast (several of these singers had proved a marked success with Dorset Opera previously), smooth out numerous textual problems in the score, and bring everything together to dress rehearsal in under ten days. Michael Beauchamp's staging, allowing for teething problems in the initial Sherborne performance that preceded its presentation at London's Bloomsbury Theatre, has the ingredients of a very good production indeed : over half a dozen impressive voices easily up to the job; an effective, economical set by the American designer C David Higgins - I especially admired the restrained browns of the Spanish viceroy's Palazzo and the compactly staged Convent scene; and superb, consistent Hispanic costumes. None of this would have been out of place at the Royal Opera.

Gennariello (Andrea Baker). Photo (c) 2000 Terry Donovan

True, by the first night the orchestra had yet to jel. Several arias and recits left strings lagging. Patrick Shelley's conducting was sensitive to cast and work alike, albeit occasionally by a rough-and-ready mutual accommodation (not till the Duke's Act II aria 'As husband and father' was there a satisfyingly perfect orchestral launch). There were instrumental hits and misses : two dire moments for first violins and one appalling one for the flutes, plus not overmuch phrasing, and a tendency to overbear, for which two superb patches of bassoon obbligato and a fine cello solo at start and finish made up. Yet Gomes' key larger ensembles seemed to galvanise everyone.

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Copyright © 31 August 2000 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK





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