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June 21, 2011 6:40 pm

La verità in cimento, Garsington Opera at Wormsley

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The new temporary theatre at Wormsley has raised Garsington Opera’s game. The contemporary architecture, all steel and glass with panoramic views across the Getty estate, makes a powerful design statement, even if it can be chilly inside on nights when the English summer is doing its worst.

Perhaps the production team for La verità in cimento felt it needed to create something complementary. Largely forgotten on stage since its premiere in 1720, Vivaldi’s opera is a typically confusing Baroque farrago of plotting, jealousies and mistaken identities in high places. Was it meant to be comedy or drama, satire or tragedy? Heaven only knows.

In the hands of producer David Freeman and designer Duncan Hayler, everything here, like the theatre, was stylish and chilly. The setting is a glittering conservatory entirely in white and silver. Even the plants and most of the costumes are in the same white-and-silver colour scheme. Presumably they are trying to convey that the cold-hearted characters in this opera feel no warmth.

The centre of the plot is occupied by two scheming women straight out of Dynasty. The soft-voiced Jean Rigby plays Rustena, the Sultan’s wronged wife, with the haughty comic disdain of Mrs Slocombe in the vintage British sitcom Are You Being Served? The sharper-voiced Diana Montague is the scarlet woman, the Sultan’s lover Damira, who prowls the stage like Cruella de Vil in a flame-red dress (the only splash of colour).

Their professionalism was welcome, as was Paul Nilon’s as a sometimes strenuous-sounding Sultan. There was no competition between the two babies confused at birth, as the sweet-voiced James Laing was easily preferable to the vocally rusty Yaniv d’Or, but Ida Falk Winland with her cool, pure soprano suited the role of Rosane nicely.

It was not their fault the opera was so uninvolving. Nor could the Garsington Opera Orchestra and conductor Laurence Cummings be blamed when they set about every number with almost breathless enthusiasm. A more engaging production might have helped but, for all the music’s passing attractions, there is little in Vivaldi’s opera to touch the heart. After this it can surely go back in the deep freeze for another 300 years. 

 

Garsington Opera

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