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{TABLE} Zaide .......... Mozart {/TABLE} IT would have taken a brave forecaster to predict a future's on the Irish stage for Mozart's unfinished Zaide when the work was seen at the Wexford Festival of 1981. But such are the changing fortunes of opera in Ireland that Opera Theatre" Company, with the RTE Concert orchestra under Proinnsias O Duinn in the pit, is now touring the piece in a co production with Transparant Muziektheater Antwerp, following a series of performances at nine venues in Belgium.

Mozart worked on Zaide, when he was in his early twenties, and completed 15 musical numbers. There's no overture, no conclusion, and not even the title is Mozart's (the original Das Serail was changed by the publisher to avoid confusion with the later Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail).

But the piece will always be of particular interest, as it includes two examples of melodrama - music with text that is spoken rather than sung - an undertaking about which Mozart was, for a while, at any rate, filled with great enthusiasm.

In Wexford, the more successful of the two melodramas was the first, for the prisoner, Gomatz. In Ian Burton's new OTC production (with Burton providing the sometimes racy translation as well as directing), it's the fiery, vituperative rage of John Bowen's Soliman which ignites with real dramatic force. Soliman's subsequent descent into compliance is, however, not quite so persuasively charted.

The melodrama of the chained prisoner Gomatz calls for greater conviction than was mustered by Declan Kelly, whose singing found him in variable voice and whose acting (particularly his expressions of gratitude to Allazim) contributed to some of the weakest moments of the evening.

Some of the strongest were to be found in the Zaide of the young Kilkenny soprano Sinead Blanchfield, singing the role for just the single performance I heard on Saturday (the regular Zaide will be the Belgian Anne Cambier). Blanchfield's smooth and clearly focused singing, more consistent and secure in the first act than in the second, at times brought to mind the style of the leading German lyric sopranos of the 1950s.

Gerard O'Connor's Osmin brought some touches of broad humour (notably a well played dressing scene with overtones of Wallace and Gromit) and Quentin Hayes made an effectively pliable Allazim. Barthel Ritzen's shiny walled blueplastic set looked well in the resourceful, at times quietly spectacular lighting of Ian Sommerville. Proinnsias O Duinn conducted the RTECO with a firm and stylish though never over dramatic hand.