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Yet another foreign haunt for Hawkes was Croatia, where he staged the modern première of Cavalli's rarely seen Pompeo Magno with a mixed company, half English and half Croatian. 'It was very vague sort of experience, and I have to say the English cast members made the standard of the Croats' acting look pretty minimal!' (The accompaniment fared rather better, and featured the famed Zagreb Soloists with Paul Esswood in charge.)

More recently Tom Hawkes and his regular designer and colleague, Peter Rice, have been engaged at the outdoor opera Festival in Holland Park, where they introduced L'Arlesiana, by Puccini's younger contemporary Francesco Cilea (1866-1950) a few seasons ago. Last summer they staged a visually and vocally delightful production of Cilea's best known opera, Adriana Lecouvreur, starring the legendary Rosalind Plowright and the excellent Christine Bunning, who also recently sang a moving Madam Butterfly at Castleward; (in another casting coincidence, his fine Michonnet from last year's Lecouvreur, Charles Johnston, will also be singing in Castleward's Tosca in 2003).

Christine Bunning in the title role of Tom Hawkes' Holland Park Festival production of Cilea's 'Adriana Lecouvreur'. Photo © 2002 Opera Holland Park
Christine Bunning in the title role of Tom Hawkes' Holland Park Festival production of Cilea's 'Adriana Lecouvreur'. Photo © 2002 Opera Holland Park

This year's summer offering from Hawkes will be Massenet's Werther, which runs at Holland Park from 1 to 19 July 2003. 'I've never done any Massenet, and I'm looking forward to it. We're doing it absolutely as it is, setting it in 1780 something, and Peter is taking a really painterly approach, basing it on eighteenth century watercolours.

Not surprisingly, Hawkes's productions always acquire a strongly memorable visual look. Much of that is down to Rice, but Hawkes also picked up this emphasis at the outset of his career : 'In the early days I learned an awful lot from working, in the late 1960's and 70's, for Reggie Woolley, who'd worked in the theatre and was the original designer for Sandy Wilson's The Boyfriend in the 1950s, and later from working with companies like Opera for All.'

Like La Bohème, Puccini's three act lyric comedy La Rondine, which Brian MacKay will conduct at Castleward, a 'light opera in the Viennese manner', is a love story -- in this case about a (by now) upper class former prostitute, Magda de Civry (sung by soprano Naomi Harvey) , who in the Third Act, after a lightning and passionate affair, nobly forswears her love for and abandons her eminently desirable young man (Ruggero, the tenor role premièred by Tito Schipa and later taken up by Gigli, and sung here by Sean Ruane, who also sang the role at Holland Park last season) so as to give him a chance in life and spare him his family's inevitable disapproval.

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Copyright © 29 May 2003 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK


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