Tuesday, 9 July 2019

News from Opera Holland Park

News from
Opera Holland Park
July 2019
Dear Dominic Grantham,

Having written to you last week about L’arlesiana, I wanted to tell you a bit about the operas partnering it in our final weeks of the Season – the double bill of Wolf-Ferrari’s delicious comedy Il segreto di Susanna and Tchaikovsky’s almost unbearably beautiful Iolanta.

The two productions could not be more different. One is a fast-paced, snappy farce, full of light, elegant music, featuring just two singers and a silent actor. The other is dark and philosophical, a more lengthy, rich work, with a large cast. The contrast will make this an exciting, varied evening, showcasing two operas that are rarely seen.

Il segreto di Susanna is a gorgeous comedy of mistrust and confusion. Although it is light, it touches on gender expectations of the early 20th century, as Count Gil, played by Richard Burkhard, accuses his wife, Countess Susanna (Clare Presland), of adultery after smelling smoke on her clothes.

Requiring 45 minutes of non-stop work from the two singers, and brilliant comedic acting from their silent servant Sante (John Savournin), the opera is intense to perform, but features some mesmerising music. It makes a lovely hors d’oeuvre to Iolanta.

Tchaikovsky’s final opera tells the story of a young princess who is kept in a walled garden, tended by loyal servants, who are forbidden from telling her that she is blind. When Count Vaudémont manages to find his way into the garden, he quickly realises the truth and reveals it to her, unaware of the consequences of his actions.

In 2014 we unleashed the extraordinary soprano, Natalya Romaniw, in Wolf-Ferrari’s I gioielli della Madonna. Since then she has returned twice, in L’amore dei tre re and most recently The Queen of Spades. This year she returns once again to assume the role of Iolanta.

Natalya is one of the most exciting sopranos in Europe right now. Hers is a voice of visceral power that has to be heard in person to be believed, and she has been in much demand since we last saw her.

She will be joined by another terrific British talent currently taking the world by storm, tenor David Butt Philip. He will sing the role of Count Vaudémont, after previously performing in Mascagni’s Isabeau last season. Together, they promise fireworks. The extended duet in Iolanta, which builds to a climax of extraordinary emotion, is among Tchaikovsky’s finest creations, and we simply can’t wait to hear them perform it.

Michael Volpe
General Director of Opera Holland Park
Further listening: Clare Presland and Natalya Romaniw
Clare Presland sings O gioia la nube leggera
This light, beautiful aria sees Countess Susanna enjoying a moment of freedom. While her husband is out of the house, she opens a packet of cigarettes and begins to smoke.
At the time, early in the 20th century, it was frowned upon for a woman to smoke, even in the privacy of her own home, so Susanna is very much ahead of her time.

Natalya Romaniw sings Otchego eto prezhde ne znala
This aria comes early in the story of Iolanta. The princess opens up to her loyal servants about an unknown sorrow that she doesn't understand.
Natalya Romaniw describes Iolanta as someone who is 'desperate to discover the one thing she knows is missing, the beauty of sight. She is hugely intuitive, but also trapped and suffocated by her misfortune.' 

Inside the Il segreto di Susanna and Iolanta rehearsal rooms

During this rehearsal process, the cast and creatives for Il segreto di Susanna and Iolanta have been working separately on the two halves of the Double Bill. The first time they will see one another's work will be when they arrive at the theatre this week for stage rehearsals. Clare Presland said that she was excited to see Iolanta for the first time to get a sense of the tone of the whole evening, with its two heavily contrasting halves.

Having visited both rehearsal rooms, we're excited to share these photos showing the two companies mid-way through rehearsals.