Vivaldi, La verità in cimento: Soloists, The Garsington Opera Orchestra, Laurence Cummings (conductor) The Wormsley Estate 23.6.2011 (BK)
Rosane – Ida Falk Winland (soprano)
Damira – Diana Montague (mezzo)
Rustena – Jean Rigby (mezzo)
Melindo – Yaniv D’Or (counter-tenor)
Zelim – James Laing (counter-tenor)
Sultan – Paul Nilon (tenor)
Conductor – Laurence Cummings
Director – David Freeman
Designer – Duncan Hayler
Lighting Designer – Bruno Poet
The Garsington Opera Orchestra
The transfer to Garsington Opera’s new home at The Wormsley Estate seems have gone extremely smoothly; so well in fact that all of the Garsington traditions – including plenty of time and lots of covered spaces for picnics – have been preserved very faithfully. Robin Snell’s new Pavilion, which will be specially erected for the opera season each year and dismantled afterwards, is extremely attractive visually and is almost a literal example of architecture as ‘frozen music.’ It is more spacious than the old one on the Garsington Manor estate and so can accommodate more elaborate sets and larger orchestral forces. On the evidence of this hearing, it is also an acoustic success although I did wonder whether the rows of microphones mounted just below the stage and above the orchestra pit signified the installation of carefully gauged sound reinforcement. If that is in fact the case, then the results are very impressive.
Garsington invariably pulls at least one rabbit from the hat every season and this time it follows up the success of L’incoronazione di Dario in 2008 with another largely unknown opera by Vivaldi. The work’s first surprise is that the mixed-up baby plot line familiar from the likes of Trovatore and HMS Pinafore turns out to be much older that we might have thought, predating Verdi and Sullivan by a good couple of hundred years. In La verità in cimento – ‘Truth put to the test’ – a Sultan with two sons, one born to his Empress and the other to another of his wives on the same day, switches the boys round so that the second wife’s child will inherit the kingdom. Twenty years later we find the false ‘heir’ betrothed to a Princess from a nearby country, very happily it seems because the couple are deeply in love. Then the Sultan spills the beans about his deception because his conscience is pricking him, much to the everyone’s consternation. The story arising from this backbone, such as it is, proceeds through a series of solo and ensemble items for the six-character cast until the denouément when the false heir gets the girl and the real heir gets the kingdom.
As the programme notes point out this is a fairly dotty plot for an opera but it’s also particularly thin as drama when it comes to sustaining interest in the characters. Its greatest problem however – at least for the director surely – is deciding whether it’s meant as comedy or drama because of the vast tracts of text exploring the sense that each character makes of the changed situation. Despite excellent surtitles, the ‘ action’ – and sometimes the actual emotions expressed by the characters – were often difficult to follow even after allowing for the opera’s beautiful and occasionally ravishing music. I found it hard to care very much about these people or even to differentiate between most of them all that clearly in terms of what they were meant to represent: apart from the second wife / concubine Damira that is, who is dressed throughout as a ‘scarlet woman’ while everyone else is in black and white or silver.
At this point however I do have to confess that I left at the half time interval despite my undying admiration for Laurence Cummings’ expert conducting. His hand was every bit as obviously in command of this music as it had been when I heard him last – in a memorable performance of Purcell’s King Arthur at Aldeburgh. What drove me away though was neither the operatic plot nor the quality of the singing, but the remarkably chilly conditions in the unheated Wormsley Pavilion. Purcell’s Cold Genius felt far too close for comfort for most of the 90 minute first half.
Footnote: I am told that the new Pavilion does in fact have heating, which unfortunately was not working properly on the evening that I was there. (BK)