It’s all a little unlikely: Protestants and Jews in rural Alsace, Yiddish melodies given a distinctly Italianate spin, the longest and most infuriating foreplay in opera, and not one single death.
I’m not sure when there was last a Jewish wedding in Holland Park and I wish they’d had better weather for this one – but if ever an opera were infused with the scent and jubilance of summer Pietro Mascagni’s L’amico Fritz is. Listening to this delicious score you wonder how the man who gave us Cavalleria rusticana (his milestone and millstone) could ever have been perceived as a “one hit wonder”. Opera Holland Park has managed three to date.
So make haste to Kensington because the moment Stuart Stratford launches the prelude with pristine and piquant articulation from the City of London Sinfonia there’ll be a smile on your face. You’ll be gazing at Nicky Shaw’s retro set recognising, if you are old enough, all the signs of 1950s chic. And, yes, there’s a touch of Mad Men about the typing pool as they jostle for the attentions of their highly eligible boss Fritz Kobus. Annilese Miskimmon’s delightful staging hits all the right notes and what an ingenious touch to turn the benevolent Fritz into a builder of picture-perfect homes doubtless offered at knock-down prices to the less well-heeled of the local community. The scene change will make you smile, too – even if I’m pretty certain they didn’t have cordless power drills back then.
But back to that homespun score replete with delicious intimations of the local bandas and florid Jewish fiddles – all of it, of course, so eminently singable. The so-called “Cherry Duet” is not the first time that seasonal fruit has been equated with desire and it’s here that our would-be lovers begin their gradual ascent to mutual adoration. The rapturously love-resistant Fritz introduces Eric Margiore, a dashingly elegant young lyric tenor for whom the role is perhaps a duet too far in terms of his stamina and vocal wherewithal. As for the innocent country girl Suzel, she was a top C short of perfect for the lovely Anna Leese whose honest open sound proved so affecting in the role. A smashingly sung performance, too, from David Stephenson as David, the Rabbi.
But on a damp, chilly, evening it was the rhapsodic Intermezzo into the final act that lifted the spirits and made one think a little differently about this most unexpected composer.