Experimental feature

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Experimental feature

At what is clearly a crucial turning-point in its history, the Wexford Festival is in the process of reinventing itself on a grander scale. This year’s event is in the nature of an interim measure.

Having decamped to a smaller venue while the much-loved but ramshackle Theatre Royal is replaced by the ambitious new Wexford Opera House, the 55th festival has nevertheless managed to come up with a respectable programme.

First up is a rarity by Donizetti – a composer regularly featured over the years. Those with long Wexford memories may recall that L’ajo nell’imbarrazzo, a farcical comedy centring on the predicament of an embarrassed tutor, was played here in 1973.

This year’s different title represents Donizetti’s 1826 Naples revision, made two years after the original premiered in Rome. The result is an unusual and well constructed comedy.

Don Gregorio is tutor to the two sons of Don Giulio, both of whom are kept by their overprotective father as far as possible in ignorance of women.

The upshot is that the younger, Pippetto, has developed an inordinate interest in the family’s elderly maid, while his older brother Enrico has gone off and fathered a child by a young woman he has secretly married. The possibilities for farcical misunderstandings are all seized before the tutor manages to effect a reconciliation by the final curtain.

In Roberto Recchia’s production, with Ferdia Murphy’s clever designs transposing the action to the 1920s, the audience is kept consistently entertained. Recchia throws in a few broad sight gags, with perhaps more cross-dressing than Donizetti intended, but he tells the story with clarity and wit.

He is aided by a consistent cast, in which Paolo Bordogna’s Don Gregorio is a masterpiece of comic timing and judgement, with Bruno Taddia constantly frustrated as the father and Elizaveta Martirosyan’s Gilda stealing the finale with a Cenerentola-like display piece that she delivers with easy command.

Conductor Michele Mariotti convinces us that the score is just a small step down from Donizetti’s masterpieces, and a good time is had by all.

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