Iolanta / Pulcinella - Opera Holland Park, 25 July 2008
Tchaikovsky's one-act opera Iolanta may not be his finest moment, but even so, it seems to get less than its fair share of airings. However in classic London bus fashion, this Opera Holland Park staging is closely followed by the London Philharmonic's concert version on 25 October. Jurowski's crew will have their work cut out to better this version though.
Tchaikovsky gives the story of the unwittingly blind princess Iolanta, who recovers her sight by sheer willpower after falling in love, a couple of good arias and a few stunning orchestral moments. But long stretches fail to rise to the fantastical opportunities offered by the tale. It's dramatically unbalanced and yields only grudgingly to staging; it's not hard to see why concert versions are frequently favoured.
Still, the excellent cast made the most of it.
Orla Boylan was the touching heroine and Peter Auty, a clear, ringing tenor her bespectacled love interest, Vaudémont. Mark Stone gave a solid, powerful performance as his friend Robert, and Mikhail Svetlov was characterful and credible as Iolanta's father, King René. It was announced at the start that Toby Stafford-Allen, playing Ibn-Hakia, had a throat infection, but it was hard to tell that anything was wrong.
The low-budget set, an abstract forest in swirly greens with moody lighting, was uninspiring, but it did the business, allowing the focus to fall on the relationship between Iolanta and Vaudémont.
Preceding the short opera with Stravinsky's Pulcinella, complete with a dance staging, was presumably OHP's idea of giving the audience value for money. Black costumes against a black background were the least of its problems. The insubstantial choreography rapidly became tiresome, the singers took forever to warm up, and only the cleanly articulated performance of the City of London Sinfonia under Stuart Stratford saved me from falling asleep.