Even an unseasonal massive downpour on to Opera Holland Park’s canopy could not wash away the summer delight of this Mascagni 1891 work. James Clutton, CEO and Director of Opera, joked with the audience about their “winter” season and how they had decided to keep the social distancing between seats the same despite relaxation of government rules. The eclectic mixture of chairs and cushions in groups around where the rows of seats would have been give the evening a party-like atmosphere, although reducing the venues capacity.
Championed by Opera Holland Park, this time in a simple production by Julia Burbach, it tells the story of a confirmed bachelor land-owner Fritz who is gently manoeuvred by local matchmaker, the Rabbi David, into the arms and heart of farmer’s daughter Suzel. Fritz’s pals Beppe, Hanezo and Federico are all amazed that their friend Fritz falls for Suzel and they marry in the end.
The score is bright and light, with some delightful solos (particularly violin of course). For our singers there are some fine arias, particularly for the lovers sung by the strong Italianate tenor Matteo Lippi and soaring soprano of Katie Bird (below) in the final act, with the performance is nicely held together by conductor Beatrice Venezi, making her Opera Holland Park debut, with the City of London Sinfonia. The score also gives Paul Carey Jones (below) as the rabbi plenty of opportunity to show his rich lyrical voice.
Burbach’s production relies on some tables, sunshades and chairs for the “urban” scenes and then painted step-ladders to let us know we are at the cherry orchard farmed by Suzel’s father, where the fruit is perfect for picking. Yes, of course it is all highly suggestive as little Suzel has grown into a fine young woman. It was also slightly odd to have some details, puppets, birthday cake, a cycle, but then the cherry (and flower) picking, tossing and eating all being mimed.
The decisions to make the travelling violinist Beppe, sung by Kezia Bienek with lots of stage presence, also a cupid figure was not necessary and in a way detracted from the matchmaking of David. Similarly, why David had to be presented as grey bearded wise chap who then felt the need to start prancing around the stage with the lads (sung by Themba Mvula and Mike Bradley) was also incongruous.
Returning to James Clutton’s end of the run L’amico Fritz run his comments about providing work at Opera Holland Park for artists through the pandemic also rang true for the other festival operas, in sad contrast to some of the state-subsidised opera companies.