Opera Holland Park ends its 2007 season with a triumphant production of Montemezzi’s long-forgotten opera L’amore dei tre Re, a work every bit as dramatically and musically intense as Janáček’s Jenufa, which the company produced very successfully a couple of months ago. Running at just 100 minutes and played here without interval, it thunders through like an express train, the tension never letting up for a moment.
The most striking thing about L’amore dei tre Re is its resemblance to Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande. A blind king, a princess trapped in a loveless marriage, her illicit affair, a signal from a tower, it’s all very similar. In Martin Lloyd-Evans‘ production, there’s even a visual reference to one of Debussy’s most memorable scenes, Pelléas’s luxuriating in Mélisande’s hair, with Fiora’s veil represented by a huge ribbon of silk that envelops her lover.
Tristan and Isolde also comes strongly to mind, especially in the second act love scene which, barring Wagner’s music drama, is as erotic as anything you’re ever likely to see on an opera stage. Montemezzi goes a step further than Wagner, not just linking sex with death, but providing music for the murders that is almost as sensual as that of the love scenes. When Archibaldo strangles Fiora, he slumps in post-coital exhaustion on her body and it’s all there in the music.
Musically, as well as dramatically, there are shades of Wagner and Debussy throughout, with some Puccini, Richard Strauss and the so-called verismo writers thrown in. This is a score of incredible delicacy, passion and variety, making its obscurity for much of the last half century difficult to understand.
Director Lloyd-Evans puts not a foot wrong, every detail of his production contributing to the dramatic effect. There’s a bigger and more complex set than we’re used to seeing at Holland Park (Jamie Vartan) resembling, more than anything, the flytower of the National Theatre, a grim concrete bunker before which the human drama unfolds. It has a set of steps running up the sides which peter out at the top into broken masonry, as though something monumental has crashed through into the world below.
The cast is terrific. As the lovers, Amanda Echalaz and Julian Gavin are as committed and passionate as Montemezzi’s whirlwind score demands. Unlike Debussy’s Golaud, the part of Manfredo is sympathetically drawn by the composer, a usurper by birth rather than choice, and he is strongly and sensitively sung by Olafur Sigurdarson. As his father, the one true villain, Mikhail Svetlov is powerful and convincing while Aled Hall is rock solid as Flaminio, the servant in anguish over the rape and eventual murder of his country, as symbolised by the treatment of his princess.
The City of London Sinfonia under Peter Robinson is magnificent, as good as almost anything I’ve heard at the major houses this year. Mention should also be made of the chorus, which is also on top form.
The management of Opera Holland Park have wanted to produce this work for some years and they should now feel proud that they have done it justice and helped bring a minor masterpiece back into the public consciousness.