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Reviews

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18 Jun 2009

Martinů’s cheerful Mirandolina, Garsington Opera

“Life is too important to be taken seriously” goes the motto. That could describe this cheerful production, just the right good humored tonic for these difficult times.

Bohuslav Martinů : Mirandolina

Juanita Lascarro (Mirandolina), Mary Hegarty, Jean Rigby (actresses), Daniel Norman (Fabrizio), Mark Wilde (The Count of Albafiorita), Geoffrey Dolton (The Cavaliere of Ripafratta), Andrew Slater (The Marquess of Forlimpopoli), Stuart Haycock (servant of the Cavaliere(, Martin André (conductor), Martin Duncan (director), Francis O’Connor (design). 18th June 2009, Garsington Opera, Oxfordshire, England.

 

Garsington Opera is quintessential English Country House opera. Garsington Manor is a private house, not normally open to the public, but for a few weeks in early summer it hosts a season of opera in a temporary theater. The whole manor is a piece of theater. It stands on a hilltop overlooking the rural Oxfordshire countryside. It’s designed so the distant horizon looks like an extension of the garden. It’s spectacular trompe d’oeil. At night, statues around the vast, formal lily pond are spotlighted so they glow softly in the darkness. The theater itself is completely open on one side, overlooking a beautiful walled English garden, which can be used to extend the stage area. Indeed, wind, rain and the occasional bird sometimes take part in shows. The atmosphere is unique

It’s an ideal setting for a light hearted opera like Mirandolina. Martinů delighted in commedia dell’arte and saw the possibilities of adapting Goldoni’s La Locandiera for the modern stage. Onto this Martinů builds musical jokes, complete with recitatives, arias, moments of Italianate color and stretches of spoken dialogue. This isn’t farce, it’s far too warm hearted and funny. Nor is slapstick, as it’s too relaxed. As Martinů said it’s “a light, uncomplicated thing”, fun for the sake of fun.

Mirandola is the hotel owner who likes to tease men but loses interest once they fall for her charms. Her suitors are noblemen whose very names are jokes, like “Albafiorita” and “Forlimpopoli” announced with great flourish. |When she gets the woman-hating Cavaliere to love her, she marries her waiter instead. There is room for spicier things, like the sub plot where tarty “actresses” try to pass themselves off as ladies of the nobility, but Martinů chooses not to develop these ideas, focusing instead on sunny insouciance.

The set is gorgeous, bright vivid shades of orange, yellow red and blue, a reference to the “sunny Italy” in the plot, or perhaps to the life the composer was enjoying on the Riviera when the opera was written. Special mention should be made of the costumes, as vivid as the cartoons in 18th century broadsheets. They are so watchable that they make up for the lack of character development.

The translation is by Jeremy Sams. It’s so deadpan and maudlin, it evokes cackles of laughter. Indeed, there are choruses made up entirely of laughs “ha ha ha ha”, and “oh oh oh, ha ha ha” weaving merry rhythms. Mirandolina ‘s grandmother taught her a ditty, “Long live wine and love and laughter”. It’s banal but sung with such fervour it’s funny. Word setting otherwise misses the mark, but again, this isn’t High Art but fluff.

Performances could have been more polished, livening up the pace to sharpen comic delivery, but this isn’t the kind of opera where or feats of vocal fireworks are needed. Juanita Lascarro, the heroine, is the only naturalistic role in a company of caricatures, so her part gave her range to show her skills.

Mirandolina would fall flat as serious opera, heard in more formal surroundings, but at Garsington, where you’re mellow with the ambience and fuelled with good champagne, it’s plain good fun. So grandmother had it right after all. As long as you have “wine and love and laughter”, things can’t be all bad.

Anne Ozorio

Mirandolia runs to 5th July at Garsington Opera. See http://www.garsingtonopera.org/

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