Le Songe d’une Nuit d’Été: Comic opera’s limitations exposed

Wexford Festival Opera: Action is neatly handled, but the real flaw is the music

Le Songe d’une Nuit d’Été: Hasmik Torosyan as Elizabeth, Tommaso Barea as Falstaff and Valentina Mastrangelo as Olivia.  Photograph: Clive Barda/ArenaPal

Le Songe d’une Nuit d’Été: Hasmik Torosyan as Elizabeth, Tommaso Barea as Falstaff and Valentina Mastrangelo as Olivia. Photograph: Clive Barda/ArenaPal

 

LE SONGE D’UNE NUIT D’ÉTÉ

National Opera House, Wexford
★★★☆☆
From the outside it may seem like business as usual at Wexford Festival Opera. But it’s not. Social distancing and audience-capacity limitations are in place. The orchestra is reduced. And the second main-stage offering, of Ambroise Thomas’s 1850 opéra comique Le Songe d’une Nuit d’Été, is a semi-staged production.

Ignore the title. Thomas did not base this opera on A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Instead he wrote an opera in which Shakespeare appears as a character, along with Queen Elizabeth I and Falstaff, in a story replete with operatic disguises and misunderstandings.

As George Bernard Shaw wrote of Thomas’s Hamlet, it is a “foolish opera”, and, as Shaw suggested, also in relation to Hamlet, it might have been better had characters been named without any relation to Shakespeare. Not enough fun is made out of the possibilities, and the Shakespeare/Elizabeth angle is ridiculous in the extreme.

The action is neatly handled in the spare and setless staging, and the music falls easily on the ear under the French conductor Guillaume Tourniaire

The queen-poet relationship is not helped in Wexford by the vocal disparity between the Armenian mezzo-soprano Hasmik Torosyan’s lithe and sensitive handling of the excessive roulades Thomas burdened Elizabeth with and the French tenor Sébastien Guèze’s altogether too charmlessly pedestrian Shakespeare.

The opera’s other love pairing is more evenly balanced between the Italian soprano Valentina Mastrangelo’s easy and attractive Olivia and the Ukrainian tenor Vasyl Solodkyy’s Lord Latimer, vocally eager and ingratiating, if not always sufficiently pliable. The always situationally compromised Falstaff of the Italian baritone Tommaso Barea is best when he’s trying to bluff his way out of trouble.

Stefania Panighini’s production keeps the chorus off the stage and places them in the side stalls, an awkward solution that makes them too present or too distant, depending on which level of the house you’re seated in. The action is neatly handled in the spare and setless staging, and the music falls easily on the ear under the French conductor Guillaume Tourniaire.

The evening’s real limitation is actually the music, whose lack of substance didn’t impede the composer stretching things out at much too great a length.

Continues at the National Opera House on Saturday, October 23rd, Monday, October 25th, and Saturday, October 30th, as part of Wexford Festival Opera

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