Natalya Romaniw brought Opera Holland Park’s season to a sensational finale with Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta further demonstrating her position as one of our finest proponents of the composer’s repertoire.
Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta may only be 90 minutes long but here the allegorical fable of the blind girl who gains her sight to save the life of the man she has fallen in love with is pure magic. With this pairing of the two operatic hot properties, Welsh soprano and English tenor David Butt Philip, the evening was filled with singing delight.
The story could represent any manner of psychological awakenings, such as Tchaikovsky’s own sexuality and desires, but what matters here is the richness of the singing from this exquisite duo and Sian Edward’s conducting of the City of London Sinfonia.
Natalya Romaniw and David Butt Philip
Less important is the direction from Olivia Fuchs’s within takis interesting set, half the stage the princess’ paradise prison (her bed is within a clinical modern plastic sheet room) and outside the flowers are cascading light bulbs. The other half, the world that the immediately entranced Count Vaudémont, is an odd angular assembly of neon lights.
While the story is filled with symbolism, fairy tale mysticism, here the action is made modern with the girl drugged to make her sleep, the doctor performing some form of surgical procedure. This is all fine although it is the will to see and “awaken” rather than medicine that is the heart of the story.
It is the intensity of the emotion, passion expressed through music by these two very fine singers that made this a very special performance and highlight of the summer opera season.
Richard Burkhard and Clare Presland
John Savourin and Clare Presland
The short work is paired with Il Segreto di Susanna which proves a cheeky tale of the husband who suspects his wife’s infidelity because he smells cigarette smoke whenever he comes home. She thinks his tantrums are because he suspects she is secretly smoking, which of course she is, and the fun of the show is this misunderstanding, especially when she admits her secret as an innocent pastime and he thinks she is talking about having an affair.
This 1909 piece of frivolity is a singing two hander with a silent acting role all of which are taken with comic flair in a John Wilkie production. Clare Presland, Richard Burkhard and John Savournin (as the butler) create witty and fun performances in this charming farce, while John Andrews conducts Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari’s score with sparkle.
Until 3 August
Main image: Natalya Romaniw
Images: Ali Wright