Manz – Quentin Hayes
Marti – Andrew Greenan
Sali as a child – Jack Power
Vreli as a child – Stephanie Kinsella
Sali as an adult – John Bellemer
Vreli as an adult – Jessica Muirhead
The Dark Fiddler – David Stout
Farm Men – Jamie Rock, Cozmin Sime
Gingerbread-Woman – Iria Perestrelo
Wheel-of-Fortune-Woman – Maria Miró
Cheap-Jewellery-Woman – Mae Heydorn
Showman – Leonel Pinheiro
Merry-go-around-Man – Owen Webb
Shooting-gallery-Man – Thomas Faulkner
The Slim Girl – Hannah Sawle
The Wild Girl – Kate Symonds-Joy
The Poor Horn-Player – Daniel Joy
The Hunchbacked Bass-Fiddler – Simon Robinson
Farm Women – Eleanor Lyons, Angharad Morgan, Cátia Moresco
Bargemen – Adam Gilbert, Quentin Hayes, Patrick Hyland
Dancers – Jan Patzke, Ryan O’Neill, Aaron Jones, Olivia Qualye, Jenny Reeves, Máire Dee
Chorus of Wexford Festival Opera
Orchestra of Wexford Festival Opera
Conductor: Rory Macdonald
Director: Stephen Medcalf
Associate Director: Rodula Gaitanou
Set & Costume Designer: Jamie Vartan
Lighting Designer: Simon Corder
Choreographer: Paula O’Reilly
Chorus Master: Gavin Carr
As the final work to complete the triad of productions for the 2012 festival, artistic director David Agler had wisely chosen Frederick Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet, a fitting tribute to mark the 150th anniversary of the composer’s birth. From the outset this opera was one of Delius’s most ambitious compositions, and he even took on the task himself to compile the libretto from Romeo and Julia auf dem Dorfe, the powerful novella about love and death by Swiss realist author Gottfried Keller.
The story revolves around the young lovers Sali and Vreli, whose marriage is made impossible due to a long lasting feud between their fathers, Manz and Mati, about a piece of land. Set in rural Switzerland in the middle of the 19th century, the couple decides to spend one glorious day of happiness together at a fun fair and a village inn before they drown themselves to be united forever in love and death.
Toning down the immediacy of Keller’s gripping tale Delius presents the plot as a series of loosely connected tableaux, showing not always a lucky hand in compiling the most engaging and relevant textual lines. As a result parts of the opera, in particular the first half, somewhat lacks the dramatic momentum to get fully involved in the action.
The real ‘action’ is found instead in Delius’s emotive score, which the Wexford Orchestra under the baton of Scotsman Rory Macdonald brought to life masterfully with all its intricacies. The music does not hide its rootedness in the sound worlds of Wagner and Debussy: there are numerous allusions to the Ring, Parsifal and of course – given the subject matter – Tristan und Isolde. With great care Macdonald traced how Delius’s compositional craft combines its own distinct harmonic language with the subtle, yet close-knit web of leitmotivs. With his conducting Macdonald made a more than compelling case for the prevalence of the symphonic over the vocal parts of the opera, in particular with his glowing rendering of the ‘Walk to the Paradise Garden’ interlude.
The quality of the musical display was matched by Stephen Medcalf’s sensitive and clear direction within an abstract, amber-coloured wooden stage, which seemed to work as an extension of the opera house’s own beautiful interior. By only using one prop or two – such as the heap of stone symbolising the field Manz and Mati quarrel about, or the piece of cornfield in which Sali and Vreli first admit their love to each other – Medcalf provided the space for the mostly excellent singers to express the turmoil of their characters by purely musical means. Even in the fairground scene there is no distracting set: the funfair operators – such as the merry-go-around-Man – simply carry the rides as their costumes, beautifully designed by Jamie Vartan.
The cast was spearheaded by Jessica Muirhead and John Bellemer, who with their young and versatile voices gave a moving performance as the doomed young couple. Their children-age counterparts were beautifully sung by Jack Power and Stephanie Kinsella, and Quentin Hayes and Andrew Greenan could convince as the lovers’ fathers. David Stout deserves special credit for his powerful portrayal as the sinister Dark Fiddler, a symbol of the lover’s ultimate deadly fate.
I may not have become a convinced Delian by the end of the evening, but if direction, conducting and singing come together as convincingly as they do in this fine Wexford production, Delius’s version of a village Liebestod has certainly deserved to be performed more often than it has been in the past.