Double Bill: Zanetto/ Gianni Schicchi, Opera Holland Park, OHP, July 2012

Mascagni, friend of Puccini and composer of the hugely successful Cavalleria Rusticana, produced more than a dozen other operas. Cav was his second, and L’amico Fritz (OHP last year) the third. Now Opera Holland Park have produced a later one, Zanetto which, like Fritz, suffers from a very weak libretto. But it was gloriously sung by Janice Watson as the wealthy, celebrated, but lovelorn Silvia, and Patricia Orr as the young itinerant musician, Zanetto, who enters her apartment as if sent by fate. He needs looking after, and enquires after the fabulous Silvia, having heard of her fame and wealth. Both protagonists are fearful of love. He sings that it is better to be a dragonfly on the breeze, and although she yearns for a suitable man, this one seems to need a mother or sister, so she advises him to keep away from the famous Silvia. Such is the plot.

Zanetto and Silvia, all images OHP/ Fritz Curzon

Watson and Orr gave this dramatically flat piece a good showing, singing beautifully to the music’s charming lyricism, but what can one do with the wearisome libretto? As Zanetto turned to leave her, two birds flew into the stage rear, as if on cue, and we left this sad vignette knowing a little better why Mascagni’s operas went nowhere after a brilliant start. But we were well set-up for Puccini’s comedy that followed.

Gianni Schicchi is huge fun, though the preliminaries in this staging seemed a bit drawn out, with Buoso groaning relentlessly until his final breath. After the relatives made a right royal mess of the room searching for the will, it all suddenly changed when Jung Soo Yun as Rinuccio burst into song on the glories of Florence. His poetic phrasing was riveting, and the music swelled forth.

O mio babbino caro

As his beloved Lauretta, Anna Patalong was delightful and her O mio babbino caro emerged entirely naturally as she blocked her father’s way to stop him walking out — a pleasant change from the recent Covent Garden production where Schicchi is already outside the room and the aria is delivered directly to the audience.

This opera is perfect for a small venue such as Holland Park, and with Alan Opie as a very engaging Schicchi the three main roles carried it forward with huge wit and lyricism. The relatives were a mixed bunch, but I liked Simon Wilding in the bass role of Betto, and Carole Wilson sang a magnificently strong contralto as Zita.

Good direction by Martin Lloyd-Evans, with designs by Susannah Henry, and exquisite lighting by Colin Grenfell, made the best of both operas, to say nothing of the superb conducting by young Associate Conductor Matthew Waldren.

Performances continue until July 14 — for details click here.

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