I gioielli della Madonna - Opera Holland Park, 23 July 2013
London operagoers in search of a spot of incest were spoilt for choice last night. Over at the Royal Albert Hall, Siegmund got acquainted with Sieglinde in Die Walküre. Just a mile away, moody Neapolitan blacksmith Gennaro was busy raping his slutty adoptive sister in the latest of Opera Holland Park's obscure verismo revivals, I gioielli della Madonna. Not all of OHP's past efforts have hit the mark, but these 'jewels' are a real 'buried treasure'. Oh yes.
Wolf-Ferrari described his music as 'simple' and 'natural'. Compared with the daintily embroidered efforts of his contemporaries Strauss and Puccini, it is. But I gioielli is instinctively dramatic and musically varied, with harmonies nodding to Wagner as well as the more obvious Italian influences. The surging, throbbing score is not subtle, but it is gripping. Just two hours long, it rarely sagged under Peter Robinson's propulsive baton.
OHP wisely cast big voices to cope with the augmented orchestra. Natalya Romaniw was magnetic as the fiery Maliella, whose passion for the dodgy Rafaele blinds her to the fact he only wants to get into her knickers.
Olafur Sigurdarson (Rafaele) had the vocal heft to match her - shame he looked old enough to be her dad. As the lovelorn brother Gennaro, Joel Montero shaped his brawny tenor with some authentic verismo stylings. The ageless Diana Montague lent a touch of elegance as the dramatically superfluous mamma.
Martin Lloyd-Evans updated the action for no apparent reason (costume budget perhaps?) to the 1940s. The crowd scenes he handled brilliantly, with a stirring Madonna-statue parade, and a raucous ballet/near-orgy in the final act. Some of the details, like Gennaro's theft of the Madonna's jewels, were just not clear though, and I was glad I'd spent a few minutes studying the synopsis beforehand. There was also quite a bit of what-do-I-do-with-my-hands from the cast, which may diminish as the run progresses.
But this is a creditable alternative to the Proms, and perhaps the only chance you will ever have to see this underappreciated 'gem' (can't help myself), so I can't recommend it enough.
Get there a bit early and check out the newly-arrived Longhorn cattle in the field behind the opera marquee too.