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Double Bill at Holland Park

TCHAIKOVSKY - Iolanta & STRAVINSKY - Pulcinella




Iolanta – Orla Boylan

King René – Mikhail Svetlov

Vaudemont – Peter Auty

Robert – Mark Stone

Ibn-Hakia – Toby-Stafford Allen

Almeric – Aled Hall

Bertrand – Keel Watson

Martha – Carole Wilson

Brigitta – Sarah Redgwick

Laura – Patricia Orr


City of London Sinfonia & OHP Chorus/Stuart Stratford

Director – Annilese Miskimmon

Designer – Nicky Shaw

Choreographer – Regina Wielingen

Lighting – Simon Corder

Opera Holland Park 31 July 2008


OHP have ended their 2008 on a high note, with Tchaikovsky’s last opera, Iolanta.  It is full of the wonderful heart stirring music that was Tchaikovsky’s hallmark, but the libretto does not come anywhere near the same intensity of drama, and it remains a comparatively neglected work. Well perhaps not quite so little known, as it has cropped up fairly regularly on our web pages [1 - RAM; 2 - Guildhall School, 3 - Welsh National Opera], but perhaps this is as good a moment as any to re-evaluate it.


It is often treated as a sort of fairy story, set in a mystical never-never-land, but Annilese Miskimmon’s direction played it completely straight – updated to the 19th century. We were witnessing fact, not legend.  Recent events in Austria [the third bizarre case of incarceration to hit the country within two years] have shown us that even in current times it is possible for young women to be confined for many years without detection, so how much easier would it have been a hundred years earlier for a monarch to conceal and infantilise a blind daughter and refuse to allow her to grow up or be made aware of her disability?


We have also learnt that the victims become conditioned to the terms of their imprisonment, and Iolanta’s slow realisation of the truth and apparent reluctance for change were realistically portrayed – it took a severe emotional jolt before she actively sought Ibn-Hakia’s counselling and ultimate “cure”. 


Nicky Shaw’s all-green set nicely conjured up the image of a hidden garden and her drab costumes emphasised that we were in a world where colour had no relevance: only the flowers could display their finery. 


In this score Tchaikovsky deals very evenly with his characters, allowing each a chance to show their mettle; OHP had assembled an impressive cast.   In the title role, Orla Boylan sang with warmth and sweetness and was particularly touching in the finale where she comes to terms with the wider world of 'vision' with its metaphorical overtones.   She was well matched by the Vaudemont of Peter Auty, exultant as he described the glories of light Chudnyj pervenets tvaren’ja  as God’s first gift to the world.


Two of the best arias go to lower voices:  Robert’s impassioned championing of his beloved Matilda, Kto mozhet sravnitsa s Matil’daj majej, stands as a popular baritone aria in its own right, and Mark Stone gave a spirited account of it, and the King has the more introspective Gaspot’ moj, jesli greshen ja, delivered with a suitable mixture of gravitas and doubt by Mikhail Svetlov.


It did pass through my mind that Toby Stafford-Allen’s spiky hair cut was somewhat at variance with a costume that included a pair of spats, but Ibn-Hakia is a rather exotic character, and he sang well enough. The couple who guard Iolanta so faithfully, Martha (Carole Wilson) and Bertrand (Keel Watson) each have a short aria.  These and the sequence for Brigitta, Laura and the female chorus were amongst the treats of last night’s performance.


Stuart Stratford had everything under firm control and Tchaikovsky’s music wooed the audience into full acceptance.


Serena Fenwick


STRAVINSKY - Pulcinella

Singers:  Carole Wilson (mezzo); Aled hall (tenor); Keel Watson (bass)

Dancers:  Lucy Anderson; Emi Azuma; Jordi Calpe Serrats; Alessandro Cito; Samuel Guy; Erin Harty; Maurizio Montis; Mikah Smillie

City of London Sinfonia/Stuart Stratford

Designer – Nicky Shaw

Choreographer – Regina Wielingen


Pulcinella originally took the form of a ballet score for Massine upon 18th C music, which Stravinsky had wrongly believed to have been by Pergolesi - [see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pulcinella_(ballet)].


That project generated the composer's neo-classical phase, and some of Stravinsky's most enduring masterworks. His own affectiion for Pulcinella is also shown by the several arrangements of the music which he made, including the ever popular Pulcinella Suite (without voices).


This staged version by Regina Wielingen (Associate Choreographer, Rambert School) was the most convincing and enjoyable experience of the original score I can remember. Nicely epitomised by Erica Jeal of the Guardian as "a series of courtships, fights and flirtations for a youthful company of eight", it gained enormously from being played with a live orchestra and the singers in sight just in front of the stage - plus surtitles if you could bear to take your eyes up to them...


The three singers taking part also acquitted themselves well.  The tenor, Aled Hall, had the first bite and immediately established the mood of classical-through-twentieth-century vision.  Mezzo-soprano, Carole Wilson used her well burnished voice to the full.  The bass part lies very low, causing Keel Watson’s voice to sink almost into his boots, but it did so very comfortably.  All three had memorised their scores, enabling them to communicate as directly with the audience as the dancers.


Because it had been added late in the day to the awkward length Tchaikovsky one-acter (not quite enough for a full evening), Pulcinella was not featured or discussed in the OHP programme book, which left many people without their bearings.


Maybe it was that which led to discouraging "mixed" reviews (e.g. why did the management bother? and the slipshod Pulcinella that precedes it at least fills the time until darkness falls - - ) including recommendations to miss the dance item and arrive during the interval, which duly happened!


We found the double bill taken as a whole wholly engaging, and enjoyed Wielingen's shifting, tenuous relationships between the individuals, with one of the girls (pictured) something of an outsider - lacking confidence and social skills, often alone on the fringe.

Rambert Dance Company has a recommendable DVD (with which Regina Wielingen is presumably very familiar) of Pulcinella (Richard Alston) coupled with Histoire du Soldat - [Warner 9031-74249-2] .


Like the Massine original, Alston's version of the complicated love-story has a Neapolitan setting and is based on traditional Commedia dell'Arte characters. Wielingen's version for Holland Park was more abstract, and played in front of the evening's fixed set. A small caveat about watching the black-costumed dancers against a black background; but perhaps that made you look more intently at their expressions?


Each has a lot going for it, and I am pleased to feature the OHP version in Musical Pointers. It deserves to be revived. *

SF & PGW [Editor]


* See Classical Source, which also liked the Pulcinella (most reviewers didn't !)

Photo credit Fritz Curzon