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January 27, 2014 5:05 pm
While other arts companies north of the border vie to give culture a voice in the increasingly loud independence debate, Scottish Opera lingers awkwardly on the sidelines. It is frightened to take artistic risks for fear of upsetting its already precarious balance sheet, but by sticking to the safe and predictable, it risks losing its already depleted artistic credibility. Its new Donizetti production typifies its work under the present risk-averse regime. Unchallenging and middle-of-the-road, it is neither bad enough to disappoint nor good enough to create a profile. It is the only main-stage show Scotland will get until Madama Butterfly is revived in May. This is a company in danger of becoming irrelevant.
The director-designer team of Renaud Doucet and André Barbe relocate the action to Pensione Pasquale in 1960s Rome – cue for a pretty set, some eye-catching 1960s fashions and an assortment of decrepit hotel staff and passing tourists, none of whom sings. It’s the sort of performance where two shows seem to be taking place simultaneously – one on stage and one on the surtitles, which is the one the audience reacts to. Why not sing in the language of the audience? There is even a scene where the Italian being sung on stage is reproduced word-for-word on bubble-cartoon placards suspended from the flies while the English translation appears on the surtitle screen. Just as bizarre, Pasquale has an obsession with (fake) cats, but is allergic to them, and ends up holding a (real) lapdog.
Laugh out loud? The cartoon-like scenario extends to the characterisation of the singers. Alfonso Antoniozzi’s Pasquale has lost most of his singing voice but does a nice line in patter and parlando. Despite a tendency to force, Aldo Di Toro’s Ernesto sings cleanly and acts sensibly, while Ruth Jenkins-Róbertsson’s Norina holds the stage well and makes the most of her well-schooled soprano. It’s not Nicholas Lester’s fault that Dr Malatesta makes such an anonymous impression. The ensembles bubble along nicely but the conductor, Francesco Corti, seems incapable of balancing stage and orchestra.
The post of music director lies vacant. What Scottish Opera really needs is someone capable of giving its work a stronger identity.
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