Synopses of this year’s operas

03 May 2018

Robert Thicknesse

Opera critic

The 2018 programme of Investec Opera Holland Park includes La traviata, Così fan tutte, Ariadne auf Naxos and Isabeau. Opera critic Robert Thicknesse gives his humorous summary

 

 

La traviata, by Giuseppe Verdi

Act 1

Act 2

Act 3

Fancy that!

Act 1

Alfredo, a nice young man up in Paris from Provence, finds himself at a posh sex-party where he develops a violent crush on hostess Violetta, a top-dollar call-girl with weak lungs, and persuades her to fall in love with him.

La traviata - Investec Opera Holland Park

Act 2

Violetta quits the night job and moves in with Alfredo outside Paris in bucolic bliss for a while, and what’s more, paying the bills (without Alfredo’s knowledge). It all goes downhill when Alfredo’s old dad finds out, pays a visit and asks Violetta to vacate the scene before her reputation messes up his daughter’s chances of an advantageous marriage. Violetta helpfully complies, and quickly calls her ex to squire her to a party that evening.

La traviata - Investec Opera Holland Park

Act 3

Weeks later, Violetta’s lungs have finally packed up and she is dying. The ex is nowhere to be seen. Alfredo, who has finally got up to speed with things, shows up. Too late! She dies.

La traviata - Investec Opera Holland Park

Fancy that!

La traviata, or ‘the fallen woman’, was Verdi’s only opera on a contemporary subject, and scandalised the authorities before it premiered in 1853. It’s based on the life of Marie Duplessis, the Parisian prostitute with whom the novelist and playwright Alexandre Dumas fell in love.

La traviata - Investec Opera Holland Park

Watch the trailer for La traviata

Exclusive footage from the Investec Opera Holland Park 2018 season prelude, and interviews from both the director and conductor of La traviata.

Exclusive footage from the Investec Opera Holland Park 2018 season prelude, and interviews from both the director and conductor of La traviata.

 

 

Così fan tutte, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Act 1

Act 2

Fancy that!

Act 1

We are in 18thcentury sunny Naples. Starry-eyed soldiers Guglielmo and Ferrando make a bet with their grumpy friend Alfonso that their girlfriends, Fiordiligi and Dorabella, are incapable of infidelity.

 

Alfonso maintains that ‘all women are like that’ (that’s what ‘così fan tutte’ means) and figures he can make a quick buck out of his friends’ naivety. So, he arranges for the lads to be apparently sent off to war, then has them dress up as a pair of Albanians and make overtures to each other’s girl. The overtures are unsuccessful.

Cosi fan tutte - Investec Opera Holland Park

Act 2

Under prompting from their maid, Despina, the sisters decide they might as well have some fun while the chaps are away gallivanting at this war lark. Within about five minutes things get out of hand and they fall in love and agree to marry the supposed Albanians. Their boyfriends then arrive home (the war would appear to have lasted less than a day), accept the girls’ somewhat embarrassed apologies, and marry them anyway, presumably in the original configurations, though this is not made entirely clear. 

Cosi fan tutte - Investec Opera Holland Park

Fancy that!

The 19th century was so outraged by these slurs on the morals of womankind that a German translation had Despina letting the girls in on the deception (despite the fact that she doesn’t recognise the boyfriends in fancy dress any more than her mistresses do).

Cosi fan tutte - Investec Opera Holland Park

Watch the trailer for Così fan tutte

Exclusive footage from the Investec Opera Holland Park 2018 season prelude and interviews from mezzo-soprano Kitty Whately and director of opera James Clutton.

Exclusive footage from the Investec Opera Holland Park 2018 season prelude and interviews from mezzo-soprano Kitty Whately and director of opera James Clutton.

 

 

Ariadne auf Naxos, by Richard Strauss

Prologue

The opera

Fancy that!

Prologue

The house of the ‘richest man in Vienna’. This Maecenas has ordered two performances to entertain his boozed-up guests between dinner and fireworks: firstly, a gloomy 18th-century-style opera seria on the subject of Ariadne abandoned by Theseus on the Mediterranean island of Naxos, and, secondly, a sex-comedy vaudeville performed ad lib by an impro troupe.

 

As the distraught Composer faffs about finishing off his (or her*) opera, Zerbinetta supplements her income with an officer in her dressing room and the other performers go about their backstage business. Then the Major-domo announces a pivotal change of plan: owing to time constraints, the two pieces will now be performed simultaneously. Shock horror!

 

The Composer has a meltdown but starts making cuts in the opera. S/he tries to explain to Zerbinetta the difference between a trollop like her and a woman like Ariadne, faithful to one man till death. Yeah, right, says Zerbinetta, and then the Composer falls in love with her. Zerbinetta briefs her troupe, and it’s showtime.

Ariadne auf Naxos - Investec Opera Holland Park

The opera

Ariadne misses the rat Theseus who dumped her on Naxos and longs for death. A couple of mythological creatures share her pain. Up pops Zerbinetta and her gang, who try to cheer Ariadne up, without success. Zerbinetta tells Ariadne fidelity is a drag, recites a catalogue of her lovers, and tries to explain the difference between men and gods, also without success; she gives up and cops off with Harlequin.

 

Now who should turn up but young wine-demigod Bacchus, fresh (and smarting) from a brush with hot witch Circe, whose party trick is turning men into pigs. Ariadne takes him for the messenger of death – easy mistake to make. This get-out clause allows her to succumb to him despite her vows of fidelity to death. They head off into a cave together. Zerbinetta pops up again and says: ‘See? Told ya!’

Ariadne auf Naxos - Investec Opera Holland Park

Fancy that!

The first version of Ariadne in 1912 combined an entire play by Molière with the opera and lasted over six hours. Don’t panic! The second version, which Investec Opera Holland Park is performing, is a lot shorter.

 

* The Composer is written as a male role sung by a woman, but performed at Investec Opera Holland Park as a female role.

Ariadne auf Naxos - Investec Opera Holland Park

 

 

Isabeau, by Pietro Mascagni

Act 1

Act 2

Act 3

Fancy that!

Act 1

In short, this is Lady Godiva given a Wagner makeover all’italiana.

 

Welcome to Saxon England, c. 1012, where Princess Isabeau is highly unkeen to get hitched but her dad King Ray says she has to. He arranges a quiz night of sorts for posh knights, with Isabeau the prize. Now a young man called Folco shows up, looking for a job as a falconer. He claps eyes on Isabeau and falls for her like a ton of bricks. After the quiz, Isabeau sends all the posh knights walking, so her dad says she has to ride naked through the streets.

Isabeau - Investec Opera Holland Park

Act 2

The honest locals reckon it’s all a dreadful shame and, out of respect, don’t look at Isabeau. Folco,
who is behind with the news, sees her, and likes what he sees. However, this results in his being condemned to death.

Isabeau - Investec Opera Holland Park

Act 3

Folco’s grandmother asks Isabeau whether she can get the sentence commuted. She can’t. She has a
chat with Folco where he gallantly says he’s happy to die having seen her naked. He gets the chop, and Isabeau kills herself too for good measure, collapsing on his body.

Isabeau - Investec Opera Holland Park

Fancy that!

Mascagni is generally remembered for just one opera – his first, Cavalleria rusticana – but actually wrote more than ten, all completely different from each other and (mostly) by no means bad. He just had the misfortune to live at the same time as Puccini.

Isabeau - Investec Opera Holland Park
The images used to represent each of this season’s operas are paintings of the internationally acclaimed artist Joshua LaRock, commissioned by Investec Opera Holland Park.

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