Mike Smith reviews Les vêpres siciliennes, Welsh National Opera, Wales Millennium Centre

February 9, 2020 by

WNO’s new Les vêpres siciliennes boasts some fine singing, excellent orchestral playing, a number of interesting interpretative ideas. But all is framed in an uneven production that swings between draggingly dreary and showily inspired. Being a David Pountney show it also verges on the offensive, albeit predictably.

In this sensationalist staging there is far, far too much extravagance throughout the show to detail. Raimund Bauer’s dark sets with some mood lighting from Fabrice Kebour, the odd extravagant tableaux, cerebral contortions, and the usual flurry of sexual abuse and wobbling boobs. There are more frames used as sets than in an optician’s shop and seemingly as many people on stage shifting them than singing. Why? Who knows? Like a lot of the show it is as opaque as wrongly prescribed lenses.

Fortunately, the orchestral playing, under Carlo Rizzi, is inspired even with the incessant little applause interruptions, mostly just the audience marking the end of an aria rather than anything particularly amazing. Speaking of that applause its volume for the singers and musicians was in contrast to the very muted response to the design team, including the enthusiastic dance that I am afraid we could have done without.



Anush Hovhannisyan is a powerful Hélène with a well-handled voice, solidly playing the key female role whose drive for vengeance on the occupiers for the execution of her brother clashes with her love for the “hero” Henri. He is sung with great conviction by tenor Jung Soo Yun, who is horrified to discover he is the son of the tyrant governor.

That evil father, De Montfort, Giorgio Caoduro, doesn’t quiet cut it as the ruthless monster despite pantomime black leather outfits and (like two soldiers at the beginning and then two executioners) being wheeled about the stage on oversized stepladders. He has a massive Act Three aria that could be straight from Star Wars – Luke, I am Your Father – sung as another trussed up topless damsel is wheeled past, and then back again having been sploshed with red paint on her back.


Jung Soo Yun and Giorgio Caoduro


Procida is, if anything, a scarier character as he plots mass murder of the occupiers with jihadist fervour, sung with vigour by Wojtek Gierlach.

The sprightly dance is used to unnecessarily tell the back story of the unseen character – Henri’s mother carried in on what looks like large covered barbecue until a hand slips out of it (ah,a coffin) like one of those toys that grabs a penny and then zips back inside – through characteristic Caroline Finn hoppity steps and familiar choreographic movements. I concur with those opera houses that just omit it. Like some recent productions it could be told in the overture although that too would be distracting.

Five acts with one interval. Brace yourselves.


Les vêpres siciliennes Wales Millennium Centre on February 15, 22 and then on tour. Details wno.org.uk

A version of this review first appeared on southwalesargus.co.uk




Chiara Strazzula review:

Les Vêpres Siciliennes, WNO

A version of this review first appeared on southwalesargus.co.uk



WNO next season: WNO 2020-21 season including 75th year



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