Wexford Festival Opera, Wexford Opera House, Co Wexford, Republic of Ireland


Four operas at the ever resourceful Wexford keep the company and soloists on their toes

The pulse is slowed and the senses are quickened in A Village Romeo and Juliet. The merits and demerits of Delius's opera have been debated with baffling intemperance since its 1907 premiere as successive generations have puzzled over its ornate Edwardian libretto and six-fold sequence of near-static, Wagner-steeped tableaux. As with Pelléas et Mélisande, the vocal writing seems almost incidental to the hypersensitive flutter of the orchestral score. Fatally, there is no killer aria to be championed, just the love-drunk interlude, "The Walk to the Paradise Garden".

Difficult operas hold no fear for Wexford Festival, which for 61 years has been rehabilitating the unloved, the unfashionable and the unstageable. Set on a long curve of blond wood (designs by Jamies Vartan), Stephen Medcalf's production of A Village Romeo and Juliet allows the opera's heart to beat at its own dreamy pace, each chromatic dart gleaming under Rory Macdonald's beat. The strip of land that causes the feud between Manz (Quentin Hayes) and Marti (Andrew Greenan) is barren, yet to Sali and Vreli it is a playground and a paradise. First seen as children, then as adults, Sali and Vreli are true innocents. The contrast between their dream of marriage and the gaudy distractions of the fairground with its gossiping grotesques is bitter. Their subsequent rejection of the free life – and free love – offered by David Stout's Dark Fiddler seems inevitable, the slow drift into mutual oblivion in their sinking boat a homespun Liebestod.

Though handsomely staged and played, A Village Romeo and Juliet could not match the visceral impact of L'Arlesiana. All blood and rust to Delius's blues and greens, Cilea's 1897 opera was once celebrated for its tenor arias. (Enrico Caruso was the first Federico). In Rosetta Cucchi's Expressionism-meets-Pasolini production, it was instead a showcase for mezzo-soprano Annunziata Vestri (Rosa Mamai). Described by one wag as Carmen told from the point of view of Don José's mother, L'Arlesiana presents two parallel unravellings as Federico (Dmitry Golovnin) is driven mad by jealous love for the unseen vamp from Arles and Rosa Mamai plots fruitlessly to cure her son of his obsession, jack-knifing in fury and despair. The score is a surge of verismo sobs, delicate a capella choruses, keening cellos and provençal woodwind motifs. There's a thrilling performance from Vestri, the festival chorus and David Angus's orchestra, a touching debut from Mariangela Sicilia as Vivetta, and warm support from Christopher Robertson as the shepherd Baldassare, whose affection for Rosa Mamai's younger son, L'innocente (Eleanor Greenwood), is the only non-toxic love in the opera.

In Thaddeus Strassberger's over-stuffed staging of Chabrier's Le Roi malgré lui a cast of contemporary cosmopolitans, 18th-century courtiers, Polish television cameramen, dancing cleaners, a pregnant duchess and an exotic dancer styled as Bettie Page burst out of a series of container boxes. As with the Cilea and the Delius, the music is exquisite. But Chabrier lacked Offenbach's discipline and lavished too much on this meringue of a plot. Jean-Luc Tingaud conducted with elegance and verve but was unable to balance voices that ranged from tiny and pretty (Mercedes Arcuri's Minka) to mellow and flexible (Nathalie Paulin) to shouty (Liam Bonner's Henri).

Lennox Berkeley's A Dinner Engagement faired better. A period piece from its Elizabeth David recipes to its waspish comedy of diplomatic grandees fallen on hard times and its giddy waltzes, this 1954 one-acter was staged with great vivacity by Catriona McLaughlin, directed from the keyboard by Adam Burnette, and sung with charm. Any opera with a cook called Mrs Kneebone is all right by me.

'A Village Romeo and Juliet (00 35 353 912 2144) ends today

Critic's Choice

Daniel Tong, the Elias String Quartet and the London Bridge Ensemble survey England's most misunderstood composer, from early miniatures for violin and piano to the Cello Concerto, in Elgar Explored, Kings Place, London, (Thu, Fri & Sat). The BBC Symphony Orchestra and John Wilson celebrate the 50th anniversary of Croydon's Fairfield Halls with Vaughan Williams's Wasps, Finzi's Clarinet Concerto and Elgar's The Music Makers (Fri).

Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power