<< -- 4 -- Roderic Dunnett AN UNUSUAL OPERA
And so, amid accolades, to May Night. No, not Garsington's best. But worth the visit? Yes, not least to hear one of the finest young voices on the English operatic stage today, Darren Jeffery: not so long ago, the Royal Northern College's scintillating Falstaff (is the 'northern' bit catching? Surely one of the best acted 'Quand'ero paggio's' I have ever seen, or expect to see), and till recently a Vilar Young Artist (they've abruptly dropped the 'Vilar' nowadays; one knows who one's friends are) at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Jeffery is a star, and nothing but a star, and is star enough not to let success go to his head when he is aware that the greats, among whom he stands, were never satisfied with a performance. He looks like the kind of singer who will learn and learn; and we will be the beneficiaries of that.
Darren Jeffery as The Mayor in Garsington Opera's 'May Night'. Photo © 2006 Johan Persson
Peter Wedd took the main tenor role, Levko, the mayor's son who aspires to marry a peasant girl but has to trick his way to it. Gogol or no, it's the very stuff of Slavonic opera: Smetana material, but also touching on Dvorák (notably The Stubborn Lovers, The Cunning Peasant and The Devil and Kate). He makes a sympathetic enough young chappie of Levko (Leo? Little Leo?), and the voice is sheer delight at many junctures, both in solo and in his lovely duets with his desired Hanna, although he's grimly dressed by Vartan or his costume designer -- almost as unexcitingly as Longborough Festival Opera's Siegfried, and that's going some. I wonder if someone could find him a real costume for the next few performances? Well worth booking for, but frankly he would look more possessing in the nude.
Antonia Sotgiu (Hanna) and Peter Wedd (Levko) in Garsington Opera's 'May Night'. Photo © 2006 Johan Persson
The characters who could, of course, actually be in the nude are the Rusalki, the comely watersprites whose quest to free themselves of a mysterious interloper (the 'wicked stepmother'-figure of this unusual opera) enables this rather feckless would-be demon lover-cum-antihero to prove his mettle. It is Levko who sorts out the wood-sprites from the tree-sprites, or rather identifies the nasty missus who has cast a spell on the delightfully-sung role of 'Pannochka' (Michelle Walton), the hapless virginal mermaid-figure whose relieving from aquatic restriction (the bad woman is a kind of eternal stalker, or stalkess), together with the blackmailing and duping of chauvinistic and very politically uncorrect mayor, enables Hanna and her young lion to marry.
The Rusalki chorus with Peter Wedd as Levko in Garsington Opera's 'May Night'. Photo © 2006 Johan Persson
Copyright © 15 June 2006
Roderic Dunnett, Coventry UK