There has never been much doubt about what constitutes “a Wexford opera”. It must be so little known as to be unproven to modern eyes and ears. That is why Wexford’s international public returns year after year: there’s nothing like finding a jewel in the dustbin of history. Mainstream repertoire is so narrow that Wexford has a vast chest of scores to sift through for its annual trilogy. The adage used to be “One for the head, one for the heart and one for fun”, but what usually transpires is one success, one worthy failure and one flop (last year was an exception: all were good). But you can’t sort good from bad without a decent performance, and here this year’s double-bill has failed.

Judging by Roberto Recchia’s feeble staging, conducted by Christopher Franklin, Chabrier’s Une éducation manquée (An Unsuccessful Education) and Rossini’s La cambiale di matrimonio (The Bill of Marriage) should be dismissed as duds. The designs by Lorenzo Cutúli and Claudia Pernigotti did neither any favours. But music and plot argued the opposite.

Both pieces are about sex and courtship – Chabrier’s three-hander focusing on wedding-night ignorance, Rossini’s early one-acter sending up the business of betrothal. In the former, the cast – stranded upstage in frigid wigs and frocks – parroted the French text and acted with the sort of wooden gestures you expect of college productions. With ne’er a glimpse of sexual tension, risqué humour or sly sophistication, Chabrier didn’t stand a chance. Only Paula Murrihy as the hapless bride – a welcome glimpse of a native Irish singer in a principal role – performed creditably.

Rossini’s romantic comedy is really a satire on the American in Europe. You wouldn’t know it from this production, which set the action on a futuristic planet populated by emotionally dysfunctional, genetically engineered humans. The unfunny concept might have been ignored, had not the ensembles appeared so poorly rehearsed. At least the text crackled in the hands of Italians, raising the question: why had no young French singers been engaged for Chabrier?

2 star rating

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