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Verismo al fresco

MALCOLM MILLER enjoys Opera Holland Park's
double bill of 'Suor Angelica' and 'I Pagliacci'


London's Opera Holland Park has risen to admirable heights of professionalism in recent years and this summer was no exception. Under the impressively musical baton of Nicoletta Conti, the double bill of Puccini's Suor Angelica and Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci scored highly in the performance on 5 July 2002, with riveting singing from the lead roles, some brightly projected choruses and overall stunning staging. Conti is a rising star who once as Bernstein's assistant made a début with the Accademia of Santa Cecelia, conducting subsequently across Italy with an emphasis on Puccini -- indeed her Madame Butterfly at Montepulciano recently was highly acclaimed. Her direction throughout was a vivid response to the dramatic and musical felicities of the verismo idiom, which differs considerably between the two works.

With its rarified music and poignant subject -- a nun's suicide on being told of the death of her child whom she has never seen since infancy -- Suor Angelica is a challenge for audience and singers alike, perhaps the reason it is less often performed than the rest of Il Triticco. The music is highly stylised, and Puccini's evocation of a sacred music -- parallel sliding harmonies, modal inflection, and often spare textures, sectional scoring -- is aptly tailored to the convent setting. Here Will Bowen's garden setting, graveyard and flower garden on either side of the stage, was both delightful to the eye and allowed the chorus of nuns the chance to spread around in an airy manner. The women's choruses were delicate and fluid, the high string sonorities always pure and finely co-ordinated and the chime bells took their toll. Puccini's genius for the dramatic undercurrent, often heard in bold brass interjections, heightened the tension throughout. For the cameo role of La Badessa, the mezzo soprano Ruti Halvani gave a notable performance with powerful stage presence and vibrant projection.

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Copyright © 11 July 2002 Malcolm Miller, London, UK



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