Lost gems sparkle at Wexford Opera Festival


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The Independent Culture

Behind a modest terrace on Wexford's high street, a state-of-the-art opera house opens up like a tardis. Since the 1950s the annual Wexford Opera Festival has been a fixture in the international opera calendar. Some of the world's greatest singers have made their debuts here; and forgotten gems have been rediscovered.

This year was no exception. Maria, by the Polish composer Roman Statkowski (1859-1925), is a political tale set in the 17th century, but director Michael Gieleta updated it to the Solidarity era of the early 1980s. Based on Gieleta's childhood memories of Poland under martial rule, the production added a universal resonance to the music's high romanticism. The wonderful Polish tenor Rafal Bartminski excelled as the heroic but unfortunate Waclaw, powerfully matched by Krzysztof Szumanski as his despotic father.

Donizetti's Gianni di Parigi, by contrast, is a comedy of manners and food in which a disguised prince and the princess he wants to marry outwit each other, aided and abetted by a baffled hotelier – imagine Wills and Kate at Fawlty Towers. Tenor Edgardo Rocha oozed nonchalant charm as the Dauphin, with Zuzana Markova as a bright-toned, triumphant Princess. But it was the Italian mezzo Lucia Cirillo, in the trouser-role of the page boy Oliviero, who stole the show with her persuasive tone and outstanding artistry.