There was a sense of the solemnity of a pilgrimage rather than the giddy excitement of a gala as Wexford Festival re-opened its doors to audiences last night with a fully staged production of Edmea (1886). Born in Lucca, a contemporary of a more famous son, Puccini, Alfredo Catalani enjoyed great success in his short life.
Championed by Toscanini who conducted the work at just 20 years old, it became one of the most popular of Catalani’s operas in his lifetime. His work is now largely forgotten except for a single aria from La Wally thanks to its inclusion in 1979 film, Diva. Would a 21st century embrace Edmea as a long-lost masterpiece or an interesting curiosity?
As opera plots go, this is dafter than most - an orphan thwarted in love is obliged to marry her cruel guardian’s servant. There is descent into madness before a happy ending as she gets her prince but at the price of a terrible sacrifice. Director Julia Burbach presents a striking two-tiered, mirror-image set. The dim-lit lower half presents as a surreal underworld. Director’s notes revealed that the concept was a representation of Edmea’s subconscious rather than an afterlife.
The production was visually impressive. Wigs and costumes were fabulous - jewel-coloured taffeta dresses and a chorus crowned in a profusion of auburn bobs that could have come off the front covers of a 1950’s Vogue magazine.
French soprano Anne Sophie Duprels and Italian tenor Luciano Ganci were excellent in the main roles. Korean baritone Leon Kim back in Wexford brought a tender warmth to the role of Ulmo. There was a fine comic turn from Irish bass John Molloy.
Reduced to chamber proportions, the orchestra under Francesco Cilluffo sounded weighty enough and there was splendid playing from soloists.
Sitting apart rather than shoulder to shoulder, the audience reaction was hard to gauge but the applause at the final curtain calls was hearty to enough to report that the night was a hit. Not a long-lost masterpiece for me, but an enjoyable curiosity nonetheless.
- Edmea: October 22,28,31 The performance on 22nd Oct also broadcast live on RTÉ/Culture and on RTÉ Lyric FM on Oct 30