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One-Act Operas by Tchaikovsky & Donizetti

Tchaikovsky Iolanta, Op.69

Natalya Romaniw: Iolanta
Koji Terada: Robert
Sioned Gwen Davies: Martha
Ashley Riches: Ibn-Hakia
Matthew Stiff: King René
Stuart Laing: Alméric
Ciprian Droma: Bertrand

Clive Timms, Conductor
Martin Lloyd-Evans, Director
Yannis Thavoris, Set Designer
Colin Grenfell, Lighting Designer

Images: Clive Barda

Guildhall School Theatre, London 9 June 2011

A contrasted double bill with a rare trifle by the mature Donzetti and the revival in a new production of an important late Tchaikovsky opera, first seen by us at Guildhall School ten years ago, conducted then also by Clive Timms, with "a cast that would do credit to a larger house - - stage movement so true and unselfconscious that the whole was continually absorbing and moving, even without surtitles".

Since then Iolanta (which was recorded by Ghent Opera, CPO) has been revived quite often. Royal Academy Opera's 1997 production directed by Orlan Phelan "made the metaphorical tale of probable paternal abuse, with denial characterised as 'blindness', comprehensible in modern terms; Iolanta, with three 'nurses', was 'protected' from the wicked world outside was surrounded by a ring of flowers, and she was eventually 'cured' by psychological intervention...". In 1998 at Holland Park Annilese Miskimmon had it "played completely straight – updated to the 19th century, reflecting recent scandals of bizarre incarceration - 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?" [Serena Fenwick].

For GSMD's revival the set was somehow too dominant, a disused modern swimming pool accessed by a removable aluminium ladder down in which the father has his daughter trapped with white-uniformed nurses who manipulate the environment to deceive her with recorded music and moveable pots of roses.

The Welsh soprano Natalya Romaniw was outstanding as the perplexed and frustrated Iolanta. Her tenor rescuer Paul Curievici - substitute, but in the second cast - was not really up to his part, and the Moorish therapist Ashley Riches must have worried "health and safety" using the dangerous ladder wearing a long cloak.

Details obtruded, such as Iolanta sleeping in a tented bed with people singing fortissimo close outside it; many aspects of the over literal production called for suspension of disbelief. Clive Timms, who probably prompted this revival, conducted again to get impressive orchestral playing from his students. But some of the simpler productions we had seen brought out the menace and contemporary implications of the story more effectively.

Peter Grahame Woolf

Donizetti Rita / Le mari battu

Anna Patalong: Rita
Alberto Sousa: Beppe
Victor Sicard: Gasparo

Clive Timms, Conductor
Martin Lloyd-Evans, Director
Yannis Thavoris, Set Designer
Colin Grenfell, Lighting Designer

Guildhall School Theatre,
London 9 June 2011


Rita was contentedly running a '50s café, and terrorising her pliant second husband Beppe, but she got her comeuppance when the supposedly dead first husband came back, seemingly to reclaim her, but reversed the situtation and gave her a hiding.

A thin plot scored for a threesome, in this production plus a tramp and café diners as extras. The opera might have been more effective as a foursome if Gasparo's Canadian fiancée was not just left out off-stage as no more than a character mentioned in the libretto...

It was sung and acted very well by all three principals on the cusp of promising professional careers. Slender fare, maybe, but great fun and well put across to general enjoyment.

A clever set, Rita's café sharing Iolanta's swimming pool floor (see above).

Peter Grahame Woolf

See Iolanta at Guildhall School 2001

And see Musical Criticism and Bachtrack on this double bill