Again, If Opera punches above its weight with this luscious and powerfully sung Fedora, an oddly underperformed opera by Umberto Giordano that on the evidence of this outing deserves to be taken on by other opera companies.
Yes, it has the usual operatic excesses of verismo opera, and Act One in particular, is a rather hit and miss affair yet the second and third acts are full of passion, gorgeous music for singer and player alike, and a balance between heavy drama and wit and charm. These were all captured in style at Belcombe Court, the main performance home for If Opera which was a delightful setting for the country house festival despite the heavens being not quite so generous this year.
Alexey Gusev and Sky Ingram
Naturally, the pivot of the show is the character Fedora Romazov who is set to marry Count Vladmir Andrejevich. Immediately in the glorious performance by Sky Ingram we see this is a character filled with the arrogance and superiority of the Imperial Russian elite who has succumbed to the charms of the apparently dashing Vladmir. However, for unexplained reasons he is shot and appears only as he is dying, and the police swoop in to find the killer. It is none other than the neighbour, Count Loris Ipanov. He must be one of those shocking Nihilists who are out to bring down the Russian regime. Well, we are only an hour away from Salisbury so we know how far the arm of Russian political assassins can reach.
Alexey Gusev and Lorena Paz Nieto
Ingram excels in the intensity of the soprano demands as she veers from haughtiness and amour to distress turning into a vengeful rage. But what do we do in this situation? Revenge of course.
We do not meet Ipanov until she has tracked him down, now an exile in Paris, who now, naturally, falls for her charms. He does know she was amorously entangled with Andrejevich, who spookily appears zombie-like across the back of the wide stage in the John Wilkie production, indulging in dreamlike flitting encounters with Fedora. We need a gutsy, beautifully sung tenor for the role, incidentally, created by Caruso, so we need a big hitter. Charne Rochford really does not disappoint and in the one famous aria from the work Amor Ti Vieta he gives it all he has. This Beltitout Canto is indeed a force to reckon with and, fortunately, as pleasurable as it is powerful.
Sky Ingram, Alexey Gusev and Lorena Paz Nieto
The upshot of all of this revenge and secret police and Russian fervour is that she traps Ipanov into confessing to killing Andrejevich and sends this evidence back to Saint Petersburg. Being Russia, the killer’s brother and mother (and those Russians / Italians do love their mothers) die directly and indirectly because of this. Of course, Fedora is now madly in love with Ipanov who explained the killing of Andrejevich was a crime of passion as he had been seeing his own wife on the side. Oops. Not a nihilist after all.
Cut to our grand finale when Ipanov comes to the conclusion some woman has done the dirty on him in informing the police and, yes, more revenge. And, yes, you’ve got it. Fedora sort of fesses up. It is one of those, er, if hypothetically someone did something for the right motives and didn’t realise the consequences would you let them off. NO! Out comes the poison and Fedora despatches herself and is, naturally, then sort of forgiven. Yes fiery passions, boundless emotionally taught singing and drama by the samovar full.
This is entertainment after all, plus great high levelled passion needs the contrast of flightly lightness, so we have the fabulously sung and cheekily acted Countess Olga Sukarev, Fedora’s cousin, from Lorena Paz Nieto. She has two of the opera’s most captivating scenes, one where she plays a vocal dual with the charming De Siriex of Alexey Gusev caricatures Russian women, and she compares men to sparkling but ultimately disappointing Veuve Clicquot champagne. Fortunately for one of the sponsors it is not Italian prosecco. The second when she sings of the joys of cycling. (Racing along the country roads of Wiltshire in my nifty diesel has the same affect).
This production takes care with all of the characters including the out to get them police inspector Gretch by Aidan Smith and the rabbit-in-the-headlights servant Dimitri from Rebecca Afonwy-Jones. Welsh baritone Emyr Wyn Jones was luxuriously cast as the small role of Lorok.
While the confines of the space, and some badly timed passing trains, are the stuff of nightmares for country house operas, one of the opposing pleases is the closeness to the players and focussing in on the Bristol Ensemble, conducted by Oliver Gooch, working with Giordano score from lyrical flows, a soothing intermezzo to chilling strings at the height of the drama. Plus, we have the lovely piano playing from Mark Austin, as a divertissement for these cultured young things, on the stage. Set designer Alisa Kalyanova largely delivered what was required for WIlkie’s concept of opagueness, hidden spaces, reveals and a generality to the physical context of the work.
Runs until September 1
The Mikado at If Opera: