Arts: Opera: A compact comedy of manners

THE TWO WIDOWS CITY OF BIRMINGHAM TOURING OPERA

SMETANA IS thriving this season. The Bartered Bride has enjoyed two new productions - from the Royal Opera and Opera North - with Glyndebourne's still in the pipeline. Scottish Opera's visually arresting Dalibor, in David Pountney's Edinburgh staging, rubbed shoulders with Eva Urbanova's dazzling concert rendering of the mythical Bohemian queen, Libuse.

There's more good Smetana to hand. The Kiss (his exquisite sequel to The Bartered Bride), The Secret, The Devil's Wall, and even his marginally ponderous The Brandenburgers in Bohemia could all transfer well to the English stage.

Richard Strauss was an avid fan of The Two Widows, currently being toured in Graham Vick's new production for the City of Birmingham Touring Opera. It's easy to see why. It's a compact comedy of manners: the earlier version used here, which admits spoken dialogue and just four solo roles, has shades of Cosi and even Arabella or Capriccio about it. The cousins, Karolina and Aneshka, are very different. To the former: "Widowhood is a new beginning." She rises to the challenge, runs her husband's estate, and advocates - in a captivating Act I aria delivered with splendid aplomb by Kate Flowers - that 'Living is what life is for'.

Aneshka, the victim of an arran-ged marriage with an unloved elderly husband, prolongs her mourning in clerical black from a misplaced sense of guilt. One keeps expecting her, amid shrugs and sighs, to echo Varya's line from The Cherry Orchard: "If only God would help us."

Graham Vick's stylish, economical production looks good, thanks to a trimly attractive self-standing stage put together in the Royal Opera House workshops, a simple Chekhovian set in pastels, neat moves within the constrained acting area, and unfussy lighting. The chorus is omitted and the orchestra pared to a piano quintet, shearing the arias of Smetana's vivid orchestration but underlining the salon intimacy of the piece.

Christopher Willis, directing from the keyboard, occasionally allows the piano to protrude, but keeps a hold on tempi, ritenuti and rubato to the advantage of players and singers alike. In Act I, not just Ladislav, the suitor-turned-poacher (David Owen) and Mumlal, the grumpy gamekeeper/factotum (Michael Druiett), but all four singers tended to overbear for the acoustic - audibility is crucial - and at some cost to colouring and through-line.

Despite a witty mock-trial, even the exquisite cello-led quartet initiated by Aneshka felt too much like Verdi, too little like Mozart. Rather, it was the accompanying quintet which underlined the score's delicate shading and variety.

Act II was uplifting. Beverley Mills caught the poignancy of Aneshka's conflicting motives with inspired solo singing. The opening quintet, Ladis-lav's offstage aria, the girls' duet, the letter scene, Karolina's flirting, Mumlal's smug aria, and the final quartet all caught the wit and fun of Emanuel Zungel's libretto, enhanced by Graham Vick's spirited additional dialogue.

'The Two Widows' tours until 29 May (0121-246 6644)

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer, Lord Alan Sugar, Karren Brady are returning for The Apprentice series 10

TV
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Angelina Jolie and Winona Ryder star in 'Girl, Interrupted'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Ed Stoppard as Brian Epstein, Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Elliott Cowan as George Martin in 'Cilla'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas Pynchon in 1955, left, and Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix in Paul Thomas Anderson's adaptation of his novel, Inherent Vice

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Nicole Scherzinger will join the cast of Cats

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Fans were left surprised by the death on Sunday night's season 26 premiere

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lady Mary goes hunting with suitor Lord Gillingham

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Dunne, played by Ben Affleck, finds himself at the centre of a media storm when his wife is reported missing and assumed dead

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lindsay Lohan made her West End debut earlier this week in 'Speed-the-Plow'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Artist Nathan Sawaya stands with his sculpture 'Yellow' at the Art of Brick Exhibition

art
Arts and Entertainment
'Strictly Come Dancing' attracted 6.53 million viewers on Friday
tv
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant plays Detective Emmett Carver in the US version on Broadchurch

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor goes undercover at Coal Hill School in 'The Caretaker'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ni , Rock of Rah, Vanuatu: The Ni live on one of the smallest islands of Vanuatu; Nelson flew five hours from Sydney to capture the 'isolation forged by their remoteness'
photographyJimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style
Arts and Entertainment
David Byrne
musicDavid Byrne describes how the notorious First Lady's high life dazzled him out of a career low
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

    Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

    A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
    An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

    An app for the amorous

    Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

    Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
    She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

    She's having a laugh

    Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

    Let there be light

    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
    Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

    Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

    Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
    Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

    A look to the future

    It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
    The 10 best bedspreads

    The 10 best bedspreads

    Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
    Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

    Arsenal vs Galatasaray

    Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
    Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?