L’isola disabitata - Linbury Studio, 28 October 2010
The members of the ROH's Jette Parker Young Artists programme (well, four of them anyway) get a stab at something meatier than their usual covers and comprimarios with a brief run of Haydn's L'isola disabitata in the Linbury Studio.
Looks like the market for a feelgood story and a ready tune remains as strong as ever. Alexander Goehr's testing Promised End struggled, but L'isola disabitata sold out in a shot, as did The Duenna. In both cases the audience was decidedly greyer than usual - is this an indication of generational tastes, or are the oldsters just more crafty at nabbing hot tickets?
It's no mystery why Haydn's operas aren't regularly performed (this one was given its US stage premiere as recently as 2009). Like the others, L'isola disabitata is short on real dramatic depth and rigorous construction. However the slender hour or so of music, written at the height of the composer's Sturm und Drang period, doesn't outstay its welcome, even if it does slip in quality after the thrilling overture. Volker Krafft made a good case for it, wringing a full-blooded, forward-looking sound from the pocket-sized Southbank Sinfonia.
The story is no easier to swallow than any of his others. Two sisters have been unintentionally abandoned on a desert island by the elder one's husband many years ago. They are all reunited when he seeks them out with the aid (handily for the younger sister) of a handsome companion. Director Rodula Gaitanou's post-apocalyptic setting (for which read empty stage strewn with rubbish) promises more than it delivers. There's no curtain in the Linbury, and the wings have been removed, leaving the performers on stage as the audience enter, wandering dreamily through the rubble to an electronic mood-music accompaniment. But it's a teaser - the concept isn't followed through.
It's a great choice as a showcase for young singers, a real team piece, with action and arias evenly shared between the four. Daniel Grice was splendid as Gernando Enrico, his light, warm baritone and physical grace recalling a young Simon Keenlyside. Steven Ebel sang with assurance and sensitivity, though his strong tenor was a little slow-moving for the more agitated passages. Elisabeth Meister portrayed the abandoned wife Costanza with great dignity and pathos, though I sensed we were only getting half what she's capable of in a lightweight piece like this. You could find Anna Devin's convincingly-portrayed teenager either charming or annoying, depending on your appetite for endless fidgety antics.