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Edgar (Susan Elkin reviews)


Giacomo Puccini

Directed by Ruth Knight

Conducted by Naomi Woo

Star rating: 2.5

No one, not even the writer of the Opera Holland Park programme note, is pretending that Puccni’s 1889 opera is any good. It flopped dismally after its Milan debut and did so again again in its re-written form in Buenos Aires in 1905. Puccini compared the latter with “warmed up soup” and admitted that he had made a “blunder” in agreeing to set Montana’s libretto. So all credit to Opera Holland Park’s whacky courage in producing it (alongside Tosca) even if it’s semi-staged and for just three performances to mark the centenary of Puccini’s death.

The plot is laughable. And yes, there were some incredulous chuckles at the performance I saw. Edgar (Peter Auty)  is supposed to marry an insipid, wistful but persistent beauty named Fidelia (ha ha) sung by Anne Sophie Duprels.  But he’s actually drawn to Tigrana, (Gweneth Ann Rand)  a childhood friend who has grown up to be prostitute. He goes off to live with the latter, falls out of love with her, joins the army, fakes his own death and then tricks Tigrana into telling lies about him which triggers (not a metaphor) her revenge. Even by the standards of nineteenth century opera it’s melodramatically silly.

Yet, underneath all this shallow nonsense there is some pleasing music, well played by City of London Sinfonia and impeccably conducted and led by Naomi Woo who has to look in all directions. Opera Holland Park’s annular stage which puts the orchestra in the centre and brings some of the action  forward seems now to have become a fixed feature. In this instance it means that the chorus, which represents a judgmental church congregation dressed in black with white gloves, seems very remote although director Ruth Knight makes generally imaginative use of a huge space in which entries and exits have to be very carefully timed. She incorporates the auditorium aisles effectively too. Sadly in the performance I saw, Woo and the chorus parted company a couple of times in Act 1, possibly because of the distance. I was delighted, however to see the inclusion of the Children’s Chorus which comprises singers from the Pimlico Music Foundation and the Tiffin Choirs.

Puccini is good at “mood music” and although you can hear the occasional hint of what is to come later in his career, it’s often crudely obvious in this piece.  And the military marches are pretty corney. He was only 30 when he wrote it after all. There are, though, some beautiful melodies at, for example, the opening of Act 2 and I loved the woven in cello solo behind the voices in Act 3. All four principals (including Julien Van Mellaerts as the sanctimonious Frank) do a good job. Rand, whose character is far more sinned against than sinning, sings magnificently and is the only character with any depth and for whom one feels any sympathy.

The best one can say about this in sum is that it’s an interesting curiosity. I’m not sure Puccini would have welcomed the revival, though.



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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