Star rating: ****
Francesco Cilea’s L’arlesiana is an Opera I wasn’t at all familiar with prior to my glorious trip to Opera Holland Park at the weekend. However, the cast de force had put it on my radar and the performances given in the intense, powerful three act Opera have cemented it as one of my favourite Operatic experiences to date.
Sung in Italian with English surtitles, it wasn’t initially easy to follow, however once the tale took off and the intricacy of the relationships between the central characters unfolded, I was hooked. The story revolves around Federico (Samuel Sakker) and indeed his mother’s world centres around him too, that’s Rosa Mamai (Yvonne Howard), she’s obsessed with her eldest son and his happiness. She has a younger Son too, L’innocente (Samantha Price) and he is dismissed as a simpleton, even though he’s usually hovering on the edge of the action – listening and learning. Baldassare (Keel Watson) is the wise friend everyone seeks out for advice, akin to Old Deuteronomy from Cats, he’s always there to help and has the respect of his friends. Federico is in love with a girl from Arles, she has bewitched him and even his Uncle Marco (James Cleverton) approves of his choice. However, all is not as it seems, it takes a visit from jealous love rival, Metifio (Simon Wilding) to bring Federico to the realisation that his love from Arles is not true to him. Meanwhile, Vivetta (Fflur Wyn), whom Federico has known for years, really is in love with him and Rosa Mamai is keen that she be the distraction her son needs in his hour of anguish.
It’s a rollercoaster, the build up and pace occasionally slow – however the good, bad and ugly elements of love are dealt with in detail. The tale cleverly lulls the watcher into a false sense of security as it appears that Federico’s head has been turned, Metifio is off the scene and Rosa Mamai believes her pride and joy is happy…
The set instantly transported me to a quaint farmyard, it was such a simple design yet provided maximum effect and fit the period superbly. The Opera Holland Park Chorus were a tight ensemble adding an extra dimension to the seven-strong cast. Samuel Sakker has an extraordinary voice, he gave a passionate, pained and well-balanced performance as the love-torn, pampered son. Samantha Price gave a beautifully engaging and nuanced performance as his young brother, I saw her play Iolanthe for English National Opera and she never fails to impress me. Keel Watson was a strong and confident presence in the role of Baldassare and James Cleverton was suave with an instantaneous air of confidence as Marco. Fflur Wyn wowed as Vivetta – such powerfully stunning vocals and the acting ability to match. Simon Wilding is a performer whom I am familiar with and he cut a menacing figure as Metifio. Stealing the production as the doting, obsessive mother – Yvonne Howard as Rosa Mamai. Not only did her vocals match the splendour of her heart-wrenching performance, the raw emotion she delivered in every nuance resonated. You could hear a pin drop during her act three aria.
Towards the close of the second act I found myself so entranced by the action on stage that my glance left the English surtitles while I got caught up in the emotion. It’s an Opera I’d be happy to watch again, however I will always remember my first viewing in such amazing surroundings. If you want to book your tickets to see it for yourself, follow the link: operahollandpark.com/productions/larlesiana/