Ireland Wexford Festival Opera 2019  – Andrew Synnott, Rossini: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of Wexford Festival Opera / Michele Spotti (conductor), O’Reilly Theatre, National Opera House, Wexford, 27.10. 2019. (RB)
Director – Rosetta Cucchi
Set Designer – Tiziano Santi
Costume Designer – Claudia Pernigotti
Lighting Designer – Simon Corder
Assistant Director – Stefania Panighini
Andrew Synnott – La Cucina
Alberto – Luca Nucera
Bianca – Máire Flavin
Camillo – Emmanuel Franco
Zeno – Sheldon Baxter
Tobia – Manuel Amati
Rossini – Adina
Adina – Rachel Riley
Selimo – Levy Sekgapane
The Caliph – Daniele Antonangeli
Ali – Manuel Amati
Mustafà – Emmanuel Franco
This inventive double bill from Wexford Opera paired Rossini’s rarely performed one act opera, Adina, with a work specifically commissioned by the Festival from Irish composer, Andrew Synnott. Adina is a farce which inhabits the Alice in Wonderland world of make believe, while Andrew Synnott’s new work is rooted in reality and deals with the artist’s challenge of creating a masterpiece while dealing with the obstacles of deadlines and the ever-present fear of failure and public mockery.
In addition to being the director for this production, Wexford’s Artistic Director-designate, Rosetta Cucchi, also wrote the libretto for La Cucina in Italian. The story is set in the kitchen of a celebrity chef where Bianca is baking a wedding cake assisted by novice chef, Camillo. The celebrity chef in question is Alberto who never speaks but points out that an important ingredient is missing. The suppliers Zeno and Tobia arrive with the missing ingredients but, under time pressure, chaos ensues and flour is spilled all over the kitchen floor. Following an altercation Alberto realises that the perfection of his creations is down to his chefs and he leaves the kitchen in their hands.
The production is set in a commercial kitchen and the costumes are suitable to the roles. The cast conveyed the work which goes into the creative process and the frustrations which go with that. The silent Alberto used an array of gestures and facial expressions to communicate with the other characters. At various points the stage would go dark and we heard Alberto’s inner thoughts. The comedic chaos in the kitchen was skilfully conveyed and the opera ended with the cast producing a three-tier cake and a quote from Rossini: ‘eating, loving, singing and digesting are the four acts of the comic opera known as life’. The cake was transformed into a larger than life cake in the next opera so this ending provided a perfect transition to Adina.
Andrew Synnott’s music is tonal and it shows the influence of numerous twentieth-century composers including Stravinsky, Britten and Barber. It was highly inventive and lively and I loved the instrumental combinations and shifting orchestral colours. Synnott writes extremely well for the voice and he was well served by the cast. Irish soprano, Máire Flavin, dominated the opera in the role of Bianca. Her voice was powerful and bright and at various points she soared above the enveloping orchestral textures. Mexican baritone, Emmanuel Franco, was also very impressive in the role of Camillo and gave a polished well calibrated performance. Sheldon Baxter and Manuel Amato also gave well executed performances in the roles of Zeno and Tobia.
Adina, or the Caliph of Baghdad was written in response to a commission from a Portuguese police superintendent. Rossini never took much interest in the project and probably saw it as a way of making some extra cash. Three of the numbers in the opera are taken from his opera Sigismondo while two others were written by a collaborator. The plot is typical Rossinian high farce. The Caliph is in love with Adina because she reminds him of an old flame, Zora. Adina initially accepts this but then changes her mind and runs off with Selimo who is more her type. Intrigue and farce ensue but the upshot is that the Caliph turns out to be Adina’s father. He saves the day and the two lovers are happily united.
In the programme notes, Rosetta Cucchi referred to being inspired by Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland and Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel when thinking about the staging for Adina. The giant three-tier cake which dominated the set would certainly not seem out of place in Burton’s film. The lower tier provided the Caliph’s living quarters, the second tier was effectively a gilded cage for Adina while an unidentified married couple appeared like marionettes on the top tier. The set was very busy with members of the cast running around in bright fairy-tale costumes including a few in bellboy-type outfits straight from the Anderson film. The Caliph’s henchmen were all wearing trench coats, dark glasses and trilbies and carrying toy guns (think Men in Black meets Inspector Clouseau). I loved the visual flair and the manic energy and the giant cake was inspired.
The cast acquitted themselves well and were clearly on top of Rossini’s vocal gymnastics. Irish mezzo, Rachel Kelly, was superb in the title role throwing herself into this fairy-tale world with gusto. The bel canto melodies were beautifully shaped, the coloratura delivered with sparkling brio and the top notes hit squarely and cleanly. South African tenor, Levy Sekgapane, sang beautifully, producing a very clean, bright sound and hitting the top notes effortlessly. Italian bass-baritone, Daniele Antonangeli, was also impressive and his rendition of the tongue-twisting coloratura at the beginning of the opera was dazzling. Occasionally, I would have liked him to project a little more but this is a minor quibble. Manuel Amato and Emmanuel Franco also acquitted themselves well in their respective roles.
I liked the visual imagination at work in both these productions and I was impressed with the seamless way in which they linked together. All the performers did an excellent job which was deservedly greet with warm applause from the Wexford audience.