Ireland Wexford Festival Opera 2019  – Vivaldi, Dorilla in Tempe: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of Wexford Festival Opera / Andrea Marchiol (conductor), O’Reilly Theatre, National Opera House, Wexford, 26.10.2019. (RB)
Director – Fabio Ceresa
Set designer – Massimo Checchetto
Costume designer – Giuseppe Palella
Lighting designer – Simon Corder
Assistant Director/Choreographer – Mattia Agatiello
Admeto – Marco Bussi
Dorilla – Manuela Custer
Elmiro – José Maria Lo Monaco
Nomio/Apollo – Veronique Valdés
Eudamia – Laura Margaret Smith
Filindo – Rose Bove
Vivaldi’s reputation primarily rests on his instrumental concertos, including the ubiquitous Four Seasons. However, he was also a prolific opera composer: around 50 operas have been identified as being by Vivaldi and 20 of these survive. Dorilla in Tempe was one of the composer’s favourite operas. It was premiered at the Teatro Sant’Angelo in Venice on 9 November 1726. Vivaldi later revised the opera for several different performances over the course of his career. The opera was revived during Carnival at the Teatro Sant’Angelo in 1734 although this time the score was a pastiche which included arias by other lesser known composers including Hasse, Giacomelli, Leo and Sarro (this was a fairly common practice during the Baroque period). The only surviving score of the work which has come down to us is the 1734 pastiche version so eight of the arias are not in fact by Vivaldi. The opening Sinfonia to the work also contains a quotation from ‘Spring’ from the Four Seasons. Vivaldi described the work as a melodramma eroico-pastorale given the combination of heroic and pastoral elements and it is essentially an opera seria.
The story takes place in the Valley of Tempe in Greece and it involves a tangled web of relationships. The eponymous Dorilla is the daughter of Admeto, King of Thessaly and she is in love with the shepherd Elmiro. One of Elmiro’s rivals for Dorilla’s affections is Nomio who is secretly the God Apollo in disguise. Admeto is forced by the gods to sacrifice his daughter to the monster, Python, but she is rescued just in the nick of time by Nomio. He then demands Dorilla’s hand in marriage for saving her, but she chooses instead to elope with Elmiro. The pair of them are captured and Elmiro is sentenced to death. To complicate things even further, the nymph Eudamia is also in love with Elmiro while Filindo (another shepherd) is in love with Eudamia. The course of true love never did run smooth and at various points the relationships threaten to unravel. However, Nomio saves the day by revealing his true identity at the end of the opera and ordering Admeto to save Elmiro and Dorilla and this results in both sets of lovers being happily united. In the original opera the roles of Nomio and Filindo were both sung by castrati but in this production they are sung by mezzos. Elmiro is also a trouser role so there is a strong preponderance of female voices in this work.
Fabio Ceresa first presented this new production of Dorilla at Teatro La Fenice in Venice. The action takes place on a single set which is dominated by a white staircase/bridge-type structure. Imposing Greek marble statues were placed at strategic points around the structure and it was decorated with greenery which gradually changed colour to signal the changing of the seasons. Dorilla, her white dress festooned with flowers, looked like a figure from a Botticelli painting while the other characters wore a range of eye-catching costumes. Some of the characters wore costumes which looked vaguely Chinese and at one point they performed an elaborately choreographed display with umbrellas. The monster Python was a giant cobra with the various green segments carried by members of the cast. While Eudamia was singing one of her arias an intricate Baroque conceit played out under the folds of her dress. The whole thing was beautiful to look at and it provided a perfect fit with the musical material.
This is not a particularly long opera but as the evening wore on it seemed to drag somewhat and the audience became increasingly restless. This was partly to do with balance problems between the singers and the orchestra, unevenness among the singers, and the fact that some of the music is of variable quality. Andrea Marchiol clearly has a good understanding of Baroque style but the orchestral textures seemed a little dense and occasionally overwhelmed the singers. The Wexford Festival Orchestra strings brought out the distinctive Baroque bounce in the music but the various sections could have been more sharply differentiated, and the music occasionally needed more energy and rhythmic attack. The brass entries when they arrived (e.g. in the hunt scene at the end of Act II) brought welcome splashes of colour.
Veronique Valdés’ Apollo was the stand-out performer of the evening. She was suitably imperious and brought a gorgeous tone and lovely dark timbres to the vocal line. Rose Bove also excelled in the role of Filindo and her handling of the quick-fire coloratura was particularly impressive. José Maria Lo Monaco’s Elmiro was an ardent lover and she did an excellent job with some of the florid vocal writing at the start of the opera but her singing was not at a consistent level all the way through. Manuela Custer’s Dorilla started off well but at various points she seemed to struggle against the orchestra (which was admittedly a little loud) and she did not seem entirely comfortable with some of the elaborate vocal lines. Laura Margaret Smith’s Eudamia also seemed to have problems with the Baroque idiom and her vocal entries were a little uneven and occasionally weak. Marco Bussi was the only male singer on stage and his vocal entries were generally well executed.
Overall, this was undoubtedly a handsome production and there was some very fine singing. However, it was marred by balance issues and by some uneven singing.