Two rarely performed short operas on the theme of revenge come up trumps at Opera Holland Park as a double bill. Both have a prior connection in that they were written for a contestfor one-actoperas run by a Milanese publisher for two decades from the 1880s, and neither won. The present productions feature leading French soprano Anne Sophie Duprets as the victim who turns to revenge agains the man who’s done her wrong. In the first opera Delius’s Margot La Rouge (written in 1903) Dupreis is a fiery redhead prostitute working in a rough Parisbar. One of the other girl’s lovers, a thug known as L’Artiste because of his skill with a knife, takes up Margot, leaving his rejected girlfriend Lili (Sarah Minnis) seething with jealousy.
Into the bar walks a man from Margot’s previous life, soldier Sergeant Thibault (Samuel Sakker) who recognises her as his childhood sweetheart Marguerite and persuades her to escape with him. L’Artiste, alerted by Lilli, arrives and the knives are out. Bass-baritone Paul Carey Jones (a former winner of the Wagner Singing competition) revs up the decibels as the psychopath L’Artist e. Margot, after seeing her soldier knifed, kills his assailant in turn, and subsides, red -handed, on the bodies.
Director Martin Lloyd-Evans captures the clamour and seediness of the Paris bar subjected to the tensions of its customers.
The revolving wooden interior designed by takis transforms to woodland cottage, church, garden or graveyard in the longer and more ambitious opera Puccini’s Le Villi, written in 1883 and revised by the composer some years later.
Le Villi was his first opera and has the vitality of his later works, though it lacks a “verismo” plot in the traditional gothic tale. It opens with the celebration of the betrothal of Roberto (Peter Auty) and the innocent Anna (Anne Sophie Dupreis) at home in the Black Forest. An exuberant chorus cheers Roberto as he departs the same night to claim an inheritance, leaving Anna alone with only her father Gugliemo (Stephen Dadd) for company. When it is revealed that a siren has lured the faithless Roberto to a life of “lewd excess” Anna dies of grief. Her father calls on the legendary Villi – maidens who have died of love – to avenge his daughter.
The sinister sprites swathed in white and trailing misty auras emerge from the wings and declare their lethal intent as they conjure up empty black jackets for a dance of death. Robert, returning at last to his former sweetheart’s grave is seized, to be comprehensively smothered and strangled by an incandescent Anna. The city of London Sinfonia under conductor Francesco Cilluffo sets a vigorous place in this early work that looks forward to one of the world’s most popular operas premiered just there years later.
Conductor: Francesco Cilluffo.
Director: Martin Lloyd-Evans.
Lighting Designer: Jake Wiltshire.
Movement Director: Jami Reid-Quarrell.
Chorus Master: Dominic Ellis-Peckham.
Production photographs: Ali Wright.