Dorilla in Tempe review: A good-looking but unbalanced production

Wexford Festival Opera: An oversized orchestra too often compromises solo voices

Wexford Festival Opera: Dorilla in Tempe. Photograph: Clive Barda/ArenaPal


O'Reilly Theatre, National Opera House
Vivaldi as an opera composer is both new to Ireland and in the exceptional position of having two productions under way. Irish National Opera's tour of his Griselda runs until Sunday; and Saturday, November 2nd, will see the last of Wexford Festival Opera's four performances of Dorilla in Tempe, which opened on Wednesday.

The two operas and productions could hardly be more different. INO's director, Tom Creed, sets the intrigue and marital tribulations of a royal court in a media-driven modern surveillance state, with the conventions of castrato casting and trouser roles turned on their head to allow same-sex lust.

Virtuosity is the great selling point in Vivaldi's vocal writing. Here, moments that should stand out for their sheer vocal mastery sound challenged rather than free-flowing

Fabio Ceresa’s production of Dorilla in Tempe, first seen in Venice earlier this year, places its Greek pastoral tale – lovers thwarted until Apollo relents – around a grand white staircase that, as designed by Massimo Checchetto, you could imagine being part of a magnificent formal garden. Giuseppe Palella contributes gently witty costumes.

The only surviving score of the opera is a pasticcio that replaces some of Vivaldi’s original arias with music by other composers, and the inclusion of material from Vivaldi’s most popular work, The Four Seasons, has a fascination all its own.


The images of Wexford’s set, which the production garbs successively in the colours of the four seasons, are what linger most in the mind after what feels like a very long opera.

The singing of the main characters is pretty sturdy. The contributions of the the chorus are much better than that. Andrea Marchiol’s conducting is not lacking in energy. So where’s the problem?

For me, a large part of it is a matter of proportion, with an oversized orchestra in the pit often compromising the presence of the solo voices, and in some cases casting them decidedly into the background.

Wexford Festival Opera: Laura Margaret Smith and Rosa Bove in Dorilla in Tempe. Photograph: Clive Barda/ArenaPal

Virtuosity, rather than pointed characterisation or emotional acuity, is the great selling point in Vivaldi’s vocal writing. And in this production moments that should stand out for their sheer vocal mastery sound challenged rather than free-flowing.

The Swiss mezzo-soprano Véronique Valdès as the heroic Nomio, the spurned lover who turns out to be Apollo, is the singer who seems best able to take the technical challenges head-on while riding the strength of orchestral sound. The duo of lovers – the Italian mezzo-sopranos Manuela Custer as Dorilla and Josè Maria Lo Monaco as Elmiro – certainly have their moments, but they only rarely deliver the frisson of Vivaldi in full flight.

Towards the end of the third act there is a suggestion that the evening might be getting into its stride. But by then it is already hours too late.

Dorilla in Tempe continues on Saturday, October 26th, Wednesday, October 30th, and Saturday, November 2nd; Wexford Festival Opera runs until Sunday, November 3rd