A number of factors conspire to make Annilese Miskimmons new production of Lamico Fritz struggle to fill the required space. The opera is pleasing but slender, the set lies long and low, vocal projection is not always at a premium, and the orchestra struggles to bring sufficient colour to the music. It all makes for a problematic evening at Opera Holland Park, although one that is still far from being a dead loss.
Mascagnis opera tells of Fritz Kobus, a wealthy philanthropist who is handsome and likeable, but has a particular aversion to marrying. That is until Suzel walks into his life, and the piece acts as a study in two peoples realisation of their feelings for each other.
The sound coming from the City of London Sinfonia in Acts I and II is clean and precise, but lacking in flair and integrity. This is probably less a fault of the conductor, Stuart Stratford, than of the tented areas acoustic. Some operas are probably affected more than others from being played in the virtual outdoors, and the light exuberance of Mascagnis score would appear to see it suffer. Things improve as the evening progresses, however, and for much of Act III the orchestra combines precision with a keen sense of drama.
Miskimmon places the action in the 1950s (Fritz is the boss of a house building company), which feels appropriate for the operas tenor because we now see that period as an age of innocence. Nicky Shaws freestanding set, however, has no correlation with the overall stage area, with the consequence that it is hard to connect with what occurs on it. The chorus may respond well to the musician Beppes singing and playing, but the audience find themselves witnessing, rather than sharing in, their reaction to it. The concept is far from destructive, but in its present form it seems to add little either.
As Fritz, Eric Margiore sometimes feels underpowered, although his voice is pleasing enough in tone. His handsome, innocent features make us warm to the character instantly, although there is something two-dimensional about his emotions, so that we never really get behind his reasons for rejecting marriage so vehemently. Overall, Margiore proves a competent rather than brilliant actor, and too many of his gestures verge on the melodramatic when it should be the musics job to hint at what the character is truly feeling.
David Stephenson proves a sturdy and effective Rabbi, while Patricia Orr is an all understanding Beppe. The Opera Holland Park Chorus contributes some beautiful off-stage singing, but it is Anna Leeses Suzel that steals the night. Like the cherries she sings of, at their perfect moment of ripeness, her voice is sweet, rich, succulent and a sheer joy to experience. She also proves a fine actor as she conveys by turns innocence, tenderness, irritation, fear, sadness and ultimately love. The chemistry between her and Margiore is sometimes lacking, but the vocal performances of both ensure that the Cherry Duet prevails handsomely.
The opera is slim but pleasant, the evening flawed but enjoyable. I would not necessarily travel far to experience the production as a whole, but I would to hear Anna Leese.