United Kingdom Prokofiev, Betrothal in a Monastery: Soloists and Chorus of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Orchestra of Scottish Opera, Timothy Dean (conductor), Edinburgh Festival Theatre, 28.01.2012 (SRT)
Don Jerome – Rónan Busfield
Mendoza – Andrew Tipple
Louisa – Kim-Lillian Strebel
Clara – Anush Hovhannisyan
Antonio – Emanoel Velozo
Ferdinand – Mikhail Pavlov
The Duenna – Lynda-Jane Nelson
Rodula Gaitanou (director)
Jamie Vartan (designer)
Simon Corder (lighting designer)
Kally Lloyd-Jones (choreographer)
It has taken a while, but since the 2006 Glyndebourne production and subsequent recording, Prokofiev’s Betrothal in a Monastery has established more of a hold in the English speaking world. It’s one of the composer’s most successful operas, a comedy based on a play by Sheridan, written in firmly diatonic style with plenty of good tunes, so it’s a natural next step in the Royal Scottish Conservatoire’s Prokofiev cycle (following on from The Love for Three Oranges and War and Peace in previous years).
The Conservatoire has developed a good reputation for its annual opera productions, and imaginative programming like this gives its students a chance to shine, as well as something fairly tricky to get their teeth into. With so many character roles Betrothal is a gift for a big cast, and the variety on offer can show off a company at its best. The standout voices for me were Kim-Lillian Strebel’s fulsome Louisa and Rónan Busfield’s vivid Don Jerome. Strebel, who has already appeared at Bayreuth, sang this difficult role with maturity and flexibility, demonstrating remarkable range and clarity, while Busfield’s bright tenor gave Jerome a pingy edge that set him out among the men – comical but always profoundly musical, and very pleasing on the ear; he also had the clearest diction of any singer. Anush Hovhannisyan’s Clara was rather underplayed until her big Act 3 aria at the convent. The other lovers were fine, even if their sung English was rather bizarrely inflected at times. Brazilian Emanoel Velozo had a slightly nasal tone but has all the equipment to be an exciting lyric tenor in the future, while Mikhail Pavlov’s rather fruity bass looked good on stage but could sound hollow in places. Lynda-Jane Nelson’s rich, throaty alto gave the duenna much needed contrast and a slightly raffish edge. Andrew Tipple didn’t quite convince as Mendoza, however; he had a pleasant voice which lacked the gravity needed to convince as an older man. I wished I could hear more of Andrew McTaggart, however, who brought vocal beauty (if a little too much slapstick) to the small role of Don Carlos. The choral singing was very strong throughout, and the cameos from the four solo monks were excellent.
Jamie Vartan’s garish designs located the action firmly in Mediterranean sunlight and provided the right visual atmosphere for the comedy to unfold. I liked the contrast of the bright outdoor scenes with the gaudy interior of Don Jerome’s house, and the transitions were managed well and without taking too much time. Rodula Gaitanou’s vision for the piece worked well and each individual character was delineated successfully, though the crowd scenes lacked conviction and too many characters seemed to end up milling around to little effect. Still, both musically and dramatically it made for a very satisfying evening. The orchestra seemed to revel in Prokofiev’s subversively comic writing, and Andrew McTaggart’s direction brought out the comedy without underplaying the darkness.