62º Wexford Festival Opera: Act 4
by George Fleeton © 2013
Having addressed the flagship Festival operas earlier (¹) (²) (³), some critical consideration needs to be given to the four minor or short works, usually staged, mornings and/or afternoons, in less than salubrious performance spaces around Wexford town.
Generally speaking these operas are cheap and cheerful pocket editions offered as undemanding theatre and aimed at the Daytime-Events-Package punters who, by definition, don’t get to the flagship productions.
Let’s begin with the car-crash ShortWork, Verdi’s La Traviata.
Yes, it’s his bicentenary and, yes, Wexford has not neglected him, on the main stage, over the years – well, up until thirty-two years ago, that is – and I do envy those who attended Aroldo, Giovanna d’Arco or Un giorno di regno so very many more years ago (just three of Verdi’s rarae aves, as rare upon Irish earth as Juvenal’s black swans).
This Traviata was given in an unadorned black-box space, the opera house’s lecture theatre, with little more than a table (on which there was too much kneeling and reclining), a chair, and a set of twelve white ribbons and self-adhesive camellias, the purpose of which was lost on me, because by then I had given up.
We don’t often use the term travesty in our reviews at Down News but, regretfully, it can’t be avoided here, because this treatment of one of the masterpieces of 19th century European culture was less than worthy of this Festival and disrespectful towards the composer.
Several of my recent pieces on Verdi (ª¹) (ª²) (ª³) should hopefully make amends for that.
Nothing in the excellent Notes by the opera’s director, whose credentials seem to be impeccable, was realised on stage.
The four-in-hand chorus wore ‘white face’ make-up (reminiscent of Noh or Kabuki masks in traditional Japanese theatre) – why?
Had the Polish soprano been coached in the enunciation of the Italian language (as in: tell me I didn’t hear “Ah, forza lui … “)?
Why doesn’t Wexford Opera employ European language coaches?
And why couldn’t the German tenor sing (November 01 performance only)?
The voice is, after all, very exposed in a pared down production such as this, with only piano accompaniment and, especially with all three acts run together, so much beauty was sacrificed.
This was skeletal, spartan, inadequate and difficult to endure.
And if this is regietheater beginning to infiltrate the Wexford Festival, let’s not go down that road, please.
Leave that to the egomaniacal, self-serving, so-called celebrity directors working elsewhere in Europe and America.
Wexford audiences, given at least their discernible age profile and unswerving loyalty to the annual Festival, surely deserve more (not less) elevated and dignified traditional productions.
One group of people, not of my acquaintance, remarked on leaving Traviatathat, if that is all Wexford has to offer, they wouldn’t be back.
I tried to convince them that every music festival has its aberrations and, if they felt this production was ‘ridiculous,’ the wider Festival was abrim with an abundance of ‘sublime’ music.
Having established that, the less said about two other ShortWorks, The Sleeping Queen and Losers, the better for these were mere curiosity pieces: shallow, undramatic, humourless productions, which made a nonsense of Wexford’s mission statement about majoring in ‘unjustly neglected works’ and ‘forgotten masterpieces’.
Clearly the rationale for mounting such productions cries out for a better argument.
Grazie a Dio then for Roberto Recchia’s staging of Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore, the fourth and final Shortwork.
Here the verve, the energy and the dramatic and musical inventiveness, lacking in the other three titles, were measurably more imaginatively delivered.
Recchia has form at Wexford, since 1999, and is quite the Donizetti specialist; so, in the unprepossessing setting of a secondary school assembly hall, his production – right from the opening visual impact of the quirky set – scored well and struck the right note with the audience, at the final performance.
Another, compressed quote about Wexford, from Bernard Levin’s book ‘Conducted Tour’ (chapter 12), would sum it all up better than me:
we returned to London, full of joy and music, after three days at the world’s best children’s party for adults, where we saluted the party spirit as well as the immense effort that goes into making this the most enjoyable Festival in Europe.
Levin wrote this farewell to Wexford thirty-four years ago, and it is as apt today as it was then.
For a review of a different, recent production of L’Elisir, see below (°°).
There were several other events at Wexford this year which I had to miss, including the Dr Tom Walsh Lecture, the Gala Concert, and five of the Lunchtime Recitals.
But in a final colour piece on Wexford 2013 (let’s call it Act 5) here at Down News later this month, full reference will be made to the other three excellentLunchtime Recitals, and to an intriguing Morning Concert, subtitled Back to Titanic.