L’Amore dei Tre Re - Opera Holland Park, 3 August 2007
Opera Holland Park should be wary of raising audience expectations too high. Calling this work, out of the repertoire for over fifty years, a 'masterpiece' is rather more than it deserves. Despite committed performances all round it is a flawed work which took off only sporadically.
But all credit to Opera Holland Park for scheduling it. We need to see obscurities like this now and again to remind us that there is musical life beyond the standards. And there are enough high points to make the evening an enjoyable one.
A blind ruler, Archibaldo, discovers his daughter-in-law, Fiora, is having an affair while his son, Manfredo, is off waging war. So he kills Fiora, poisons her lover, Avito, and inadvertently poisons Manfredo too. Then in OHP's neat off-menu finale, tops himself too.
The first half is dramatically weak, all chat and no action, and the music matches it. But it takes off with the passionate on-stage lovemaking of Fiora and Avito, followed in short course by the inevitable vendetta e morte. Montemezzi's suitably torrid music makes little distinction between erotic passion and murderous rage - once he's cranked up into top gear, the breathless excitement is sustained, even if it is at times more dangerously cheesy than a full bag of Cheetos.
The simple set - a concrete bunker with a broken staircase up its side and a snaking catwalk in front - was as brutal as the story, a stark contrast to the bubbling drama of the music.
Amanda Echalaz was a magnetic and sympathetic Fiora, her full voice riding easily over the occasionally unrestrained volume of the City of London Sinfonia. Julian Gavin as Avito projected equally well, and Mikhail Svetlov's Archiboldo was suitably bitter and menacing. Olafur Sigurdarson as Manfredo made the most of a technically challenging though dramatically unrewarding part.
Despite the strengths of this production, I can't see any more general revival taking place. Opera houses can only present so many works in a season. It is not hard to see why this one in its day was shoved aside, not necessarily on account of its own deficiencies, but by the competing post war revival of bel canto and baroque opera. Today there are still more deserving demands on the bigger houses' schedules, which makes it all the more worthwhile that Opera Holland Park have taken the plunge.