Now a Forgotten Mascagni Opera is Another Convincing Revival at the Wexford Festival

Mascagni’s Guglielmo Ratcliff at Wexford (c) Clive Barda

IrelandIreland Mascagni, Guglielmo RatcliffWexford Festival Orchestra, Francesco Cilluffo (conductor), National Opera House, Wexford, 28.10.2015 (JMI)   

Mascagni, Guglielmo Ratcliff

New Production:

Direction: Fabio Ceresa
Sets: Tiziano Santi
Costumes: Giuseppe Palella
Lighting: Ian Sommerville


Guglielmo Ratcliff: Angelo Villari
Maria: Mariangela Sicilia
Douglas: David Stout
Margherita: Annunziata Vestri
MacGregor: Gianluca Buratto
Lesley: Alexandros Tsilogiannis
Tom: Quentin Hayes
Willie: Sarah Richmond

Pietro Mascagni is mostly known today for the composition of a single opera, Cavalleria rusticana. His other works are rarely performed, with the exception of L’amico Fritz, which occasionally gets staged. It was not always like this: his operas were popular in the first half of 20th century. Guglielmo Ratcliff was premiered at La Scala with Mascagni himself conducting, and it was a big success.  However, the opera has fallen into oblivion until now and the Wexford Festival Opera’s revival.

This is an opera of jealousy, passion, machismo and ghosts that takes place in Scotland. The music is uneven although it has moments of great beauty: by far the best passage is the Intermezzo in Act III, while the first act is reminiscent of Cavalleria rusticana. The rest of the opera does not have the same quality, and it is hampered by the weak libretto. Andrea Maffei is the author and, as with some of his other librettos (and despite Verdi’s music), the story is exaggerated and not very credible. Jealousy, ghosts (we are in Scotland) and violence are not as digestible today. In addition, the staging is somewhat odd for the singers. The character of Guglielmo, one of the most difficult ever written for a tenor, requires a voice of true bronze. Out of the four acts of the opera, he appears in the last three. The case of Maria is even stranger: the object of the protagonist’s  jealousy, she sings only in the first and the last acts. The baritone Douglas, a rival to Guglielmo, sings in Acts I and III. The bass sings just in the first act, and the enigmatic character of Margherita is on stage in Acts I and IV. For one reason or another, the fact is that Guglielmo Ratcliff is a forgotten opera, and I’m afraid this will continue to be the case.

The new production is by Fabio Ceresa, who has created an interesting and attractive work based on simple sets in light colors, with a kind of mirror separating the worlds of ghosts and humans. The costumes, also in light colors and fairly timeless, highlight the ghostly aspects of the opera. One drawback of this production is the need for two intervals and a long pause between Acts I and II. The stage direction works nicely, in terms of both narration and the cast’s  movements.

The best part of the performance was the musical direction by the young Italian conductor Francesco Cilluffo. He led with a firm hand and offered a heartfelt reading of the most important moments of the opera, especially a truly inspired Intermezzo. He drew an excellent performance from the Wexford Festival Orchestra. I think he is a conductor with a promising career ahead of him.

The protagonist was played by Italian tenor Angelo Villari. The truth is that just tackling this score deserves the opera goer’s recognition. It requires a kind of Otello, but with a more difficult tessitura. Villari’s voice has the required characteristics, and he solved all the difficulties, which is no small merit. His musicality was not excessive, nor his singing particularly elegant, but these are almost secondary aspects considering the challenges of the role.

Mariangela Sicilia left a positive impression as Maria. She has an attractive soprano, quite homogeneous, and showed good taste in her singing. Mezzo soprano Annunziata Vestri did well as the enigmatic Margherita, Maria’s governess, a character that falls somewhere between humans and ghosts.

Baritone David Stout was Count Douglas with a voice that is rather unattractive at the top. Gianluca Buratto as MacGregor has a strong but not very elegant bass. In the secondary characters tenor Alexandros Tsilogiannis was good as Lesley. Quentin Hayes was a serviceable Tom, and Sarah Richmond performed ncely as Willie.

The house was again sold out, and the audience gave a warm reception to the artists, with the loudest cheers for Francesco Cilluffo and Angelo Villari.

Jose M. Irurzun

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