Arts: Opera: A compact comedy of manners - Arts and Entertainment - The Independent

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
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman stars as the Time Lord's companion Clara in Doctor Who

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Time and time again: the popular daytime quiz has been a fixture on Channel 4 since 1982

TV
Arts and Entertainment

To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthday

books
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams is reportedly competing with Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss for a major role in True Detective

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sam Smith returned to the top spot with his album 'In The Lonely Hour'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Backshall is set to dance with Ola Jordan on Strictly Come Dancing. 'I have a friend who's a dancer and she said to me 'You want Ola because she's a fantastic dancer and she can make anyone look good' meaning 'even you'!' he said.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sting and Paul Simon on stage together at Carnegie Hall in New York

music
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Strictly Come Dancing 2014 contestants and their professional dance partners open the twelfth run of the celebrity ballroom contest

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin teaches Clara to shoot an arrow
doctor who
Arts and Entertainment
Queen Christina left the judges baffled with her audition
X Factor
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.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week