I Gioielli della Madonna, Opera Holland Park, OHP, July 2013Posted on 26 July 2013
“There’s a one-eyed yellow idol to the north of Kathmandu”, and the moral of the story is that if you steal jewels from a sacred idol, you will die, and the jewels will revert to their proper location. In that poem the jewel was stolen to satisfy the whim of a young woman, who rejected it in horror, whereas here she foolishly wears the jewels of the Madonna, and even the crooks of the Camorra flee her presence.
And it is not the man she loves — Rafaele, the chief Camorrista — who steals the jewels but her own adoptive brother Gennaro, mad with jealous infatuation. She, Maliella, at the eye of the storm in this fiery melodrama, wants to warm herself by the fire of love until she burns (Al fuoco dell’amore vo’scaldarmi … fino a bruciarmi), but submits to Gennaro, imagining him as Rafaele. This doubles her rejection by Rafaele, who really only wants her beautiful innocence.
Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari, the composer of delightful comedies such as Il Segreto di Susanna, evidently decided to try his hand at post-Mascagnian verismo, yet where Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana is a tightly framed drama in one act, Wolf-Ferrari’s I gioielli della Madonna is a ribald, even vulgar, melodrama, complete with an orgy. But what fun it is in this vibrant new production by Opera Holland Park, directed by Martin Lloyd-Evans, with designs by Jamie Vartan.
As Maliella and Gennaro, Welsh soprano Natalya Romaniw and Mexican tenor Joel Montero gave spirited and dramatic performances in their OHP debuts, and Olafur Sigurdarson returned to Holland Park as a powerful Rafaele, holding the stage with his fine physical presence. Diana Montague gave an excellent performance as Carmela, the mother of Maliella and Gennaro, and what a glorious voice there was in the minor role of the peasant Tontonno. This was Portuguese tenor Luis Gomes, who sang Pinkerton in the Christine Collins Young Artists’ performance of Madama Butterfly on June 14. He will evidently go far, and I look forward to hearing him again.
In the orchestra pit, Peter Robinson gave a lively account of Wolf-Ferrari’s rather uneven score, and on stage the large chorus was terrific. Along with an unnamed dancer, they provided heaps of vivacity. Congratulations to Opera Holland Park for putting this on. Every year they do a seldom seen opera, and this one is unmissable. Huge fun, orgy included, and it is something you won’t easily see again.
There are three further performances on July 27, 31, and August 2 — for details click here.