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Opera Omnibus has a fine record in staging rare operas. Its recent productions have included the Weber/Mahler Die drei Pintos, Hérold's Zampa (with its wonderful overture), Donizetti's Linda di Chamonix and, most recently, a spirited and stylish staging of Moniuszko's The Haunted Manor. They will return to Moniuszko in summer 2002 with the first British staging of Verbum Nobile.

The translation used for this staging of L'Amico Fritz in February 2002 at their regular English venue, Haslemere Hall in Surrey, by the celebrated song-writer Fred E Weatherly, K C (librettist of 'Danny Boy', 'The Holy City' and Haydn Wood's song 'Roses of Picardy'; Weatherly also translated Pagliacci), felt pleasantly undated. Mark Chaundy (an alumnus of Magdalen College Oxford and the RCM) as a thoughtful, charismatic David offered a warm, round-toned, youthful baritone voice and a highly sympathetic stage presence.

The small chorus vignettes were simple but well engineered, and the orchestra (tinny in places, with some thin violin passages and initially plodding brass), conducted reliably if without the needed verve, warmth and tenderness by Tom Higgins, confounded expectation with an attractive, lyrical woodwind intermezzo (the more famous one, a follow-up to the composer's prize-winning success with Cavalleria Rusticana, followed after Act II).

Nicholas Watts (Fritz), Mark Chaundy (Rabbi David) with Guido Sanguinetti and Jonas Cradock as Fritz's friends Hanezo and Federico

Mascagni doubles the vocal line often, initially to the detriment of Nicholas Watts's Fritz, who emerged as an amiable enough character from the start, but failed to make his mark either dramatically -- Fritz's struggle with his emotions was at best cardboard -- or, alas, musically, due to a rather untrained-sounding timbre and delivery. Despite a lovely setting -- lemon yellow/greens ceding to purple and amber -- the cherry-picking looked feeble, but oboe, bassoon, clarinet bewitched with some lovely individual sounds, and there was certainly charm, which L'Amico Fritz -- like Grange Park's recent Fortunio (by Messager) -- relies on. The famous duet was much less alluring and well-balanced than that in the last act, but the scene's close was sensitively managed.

Nicholas Watts in the title role of Mascagni's L'Amico Fritz


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Copyright © 8 March 2002 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK







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