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Cilea: L’arlesiana (Susan Elkin reviews)

Opera Holland Park

Education is a progressive realisation of our own ignorance, as Einstein said. The same applies to classical music and especially opera. The more you hear and see the more you discover. Francesco Cilea’s L’arlesiana (1897) was completely new to me but this production won’t be the end of my relationship with it because it is a fine piece.

Federico, (Samuel Sakker) who lives with his mother and younger brother on a Provencal farm, is besotted with an “unsuitable” woman he has met in the nearby city of Arles. It would be more sensible for him to marry and settle down with the very suitable Vivetta (Fflur Wyn) a local girl but of course this is opera and things don’t ultimately go right for any of them. L’arlesiana herself dominates the plot but never appears except, in this production, in a dream sequence.

One of the best things about this work is the quality of the dramatic orchestration: brooding basses to connote anger, oboe melody for calm sublimity, pianissimo upper strings for sadness and despair, for example.  And there’s a magnificent Verdi-esque ending to Act One to accompany Sakker’s high level anguish number as he sees the letters which confirm L’arlesiana’s infidelity. The music is in good hands with City of London Sinfonia under Dane Lam.

Sakker is outstanding in the central role, his rich tenor voice laying bare every emotion. Yvonne Howard finds lots of mezzo warmth and despair in Rosa, Federico’s anxious mother. Keel Watson, who has a very attractive gravelly bass voice, stomps about convincingly as family friend Baldassare and, once she gets going there’s delightful, soaring soprano work from Wyn as the hapless Vivetta.

One of Opera Holland Park’s (many) great strengths is its fine chorus work. It’s a huge, awkwardly shaped playing area but the  massed voices of a large ensemble combine excellent crowd acting with a lovely vocal sound and the off-stage interjections are eerily atmospheric.

Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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