Gioachino Rossini - L'Inganno Felice
Wexford Festival Opera, 2019
Giorgio D'Alonzo, Ella Marchment, Rebecca Hardwick, Huw Ynyr, Thomas D Hopkinson, Peter Brooks, Henry Grant Kerswell
Clayton White's Hotel, Wexford - 30 October 2019
One of the benefits of the Wexford Festival Opera ShortWorks series is that it sometimes gives you the chance to see familiar works in a reduced form that can highlight different qualities in a new context. Another advantage of the programme is simply that it provides an opportunity to see more rare works that might not make it to full opera productions on the main stage. That's the case with their production of L'Inganno Felice ('The Fortunate Deception'), an early one-act opera composed when Rossini was only 19 years old.
Unless paired with another work Rossini's short one-act operas are often neglected, and not just his early works but many of the composer's major operas are unjustly overlooked and rarely seen outside of the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro and the Rossini in Wildbad festivals. This year, Wexford have produced an extravagant production of Adina, pairing it with a complementary new work by Irish composer Andrew Synnott. The ShortWorks production of L'Inganno Felice provides an opportunity to see Rossini in a very different light, reduced down to essentials and yet still indisputably great even in this format and at this early stage in his career.
If there's a theme to the Wexford Festival Opera ShortWorks series this year, it seems to be an occasion to present works that are on the lighthearted comic side, a refreshment from what might be considered as the more heavy material of the main programme, yet in their own way they prove to be just as sophisticated and entertaining. This is opera that anyone can enjoy and appreciate for its drama, the music and the skill of performers to make these often very old works feel fresh and accessible.
Looking at the synopsis indeed of L'Inganno Felice before the performance you wonder how it's possible to pack so much plot and intrigue into a one act opera. And yet, the Wexford ShortWorks production even manages to squeeze in a little extra in the form of a dream sequence during the overture that captures Isabella's sense of fear and worry over her predicament, having been rejected by her husband over false rumours and abandoned at sea to what seemed to be a certain death. There's no sense in wasting a good Rossini overture and this little sequence sets the tone and plot of the opera well.
The complications of the plot aside, the situation in the short one-act opera (it's still an hour and a half long) has no other intention other than to present an entertaining dramatic situation that Rossini can set to sparkling delightful music. Even in a reduced piano score it's clear that the quality of the piece lies not so much in how the plot develops but with the great skill and magic that is there in the musical arrangements devised for it. Rossini provides suitable music for all the comic and dramatic situations, including arias of admirable concision and sentiment, and the composer's familiar rapid delivery tongue-mangling exchanges are already in place, essentially sung in Italian as well.
The production was bang on the money in terms of tone as far Ella Marchment's direction, Giorgio D'Alonzo's musical direction and the bright energetic delivery of the performers was concerned. Some pantomime comedy and exaggeration wasn't out of place either, mostly from the baddies Batone and Ormondo, but there's considerable skill required that is evident in the delivery of the writing for the voice which is particularly exposed in an a reduced arrangement.
What is essential and just as challenging is handling the tone, which has an almost opera semi-seria aspect to it, the comic playing not quite disguising that there's a dark and cruel treatment of an innocent woman here. That requires no small amount of sophistication and skill, as well as a fearlessness to push those boundaries of taste and humour, and Ella Marchment's direction judged this well. We got a bright sympathetic performance from Rebecca Hardwick as the mistreated Isabella, and excellent characterisation and singing from Huw Ynyr as Duca Bertrando and Thomas D Hopkinson as Tarabotto. Giorgio D'Alonzo kept it flowing superbly in the solo piano arrangement.
Links: Wexford Festival Opera