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As Opera Holland Park has grown in confidence, so its programming gets more adventurous. A fondness for Italian verismo operas has delivered some rarities in recent years but the final production of the 2007 season, Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre re, must rank as the most obscure yet.
Once a popular hit in New York, espoused by maestro Toscanini, L’amore dei tre re is now largely confined to the history books. They tell us that Montemezzi’s music owes as much to Wagner and Debussy as it does to his Italian forebears, but even hearing the opera on a recording does not give much of an idea of how it might take off on stage.
The opening night at Holland Park on Friday took a while to get going. Martin Lloyd-Evans’s production replaces Montemezzi’s medieval setting with a brutalist, prison-like structure and modern-day army uniforms but does not offer a good reason why. The opening act is disjointed and the four main characters are ciphers with little prospect of evolving into flesh-and-blood individuals.
None of that, however, hinders enjoyment as the music gathers momentum. There is a febrile intensity to the score that is hard to resist, especially in the fervid central duet for the two lovers, Fiora and Avito. Start to surrender to its passion and the music overwhelms you, like a man on emotional quicksands.
This would not happen if the singers were not good enough. Opera Holland Park has a splendid central couple in the Fiora of Amanda Echalaz, a young South African soprano who gives her all, and the Avito of Julian Gavin, a tenor at once romantic and heroic. They sing their socks off in Act 2. The role of the wronged brother, Manfredo, calls for more compassion than the strong, incisive baritone of Olafur Sigurdarson can provide, but Mikhail Svetlov is up to the bass role of blind, hate-filled Archibaldo. Conductor Peter Robinson allows the orchestra its head, occasionally overpowering the singers, but the results are undeniably exciting. Montemezzi’s all-or-nothing opera would not thrive on less. ★★★☆☆ Tel: + 44 845 230 976