Fedora, Holland Park Theatre, London
Friday 09 June 2006
Fedora is a role most notable for the attentions of famous sopranos in, let's just say, the twilight of their careers. The fabulously wealthy Russian princess is a presence throughout Giordano's almost perversely cheesy but furtively enjoyable opera. She's grand, glamorous, flirtatious; she falls in love - twice; she wears vengeance like haute couture; and she certainly knows how to make an entrance.
So I'm not entirely sure that it was wise of director John Lloyd Davies to pre-empt it with the spectral arrival and departure of his star, Yvonne Kenny, during the opera's brief orchestral prelude. In any event, she was a nice idea for the role, graciously carrying off Bob Bailey's ostentatious frocks, while deflecting our attentions from the rather less ostentatious set.
Fedora is without peer in its extremes of pathos and bathos. Its web of intrigue unfolds from way beyond the drawing rooms of its rich and famous. Never was so much plot relayed in so much detail and in such comfort. We are asked to believe in nihilists the way Peter Pan asks us to believe in fairies, and when Fedora reveals that her crucifix contains the remedy for all ills, we might rightly assume she will at some point demonstrate its effectiveness. Add a celebrity pianist who parodies Chopin and you know for sure that you have arrived in the operatic equivalent of la-la land.
That pianist provides one of Giordano's more innovative musical devices, in that he alone underscores the crucial scene in act two where Fedora extracts a confession of guilt from her lover's alleged murderer. For the rest, dramatic incredulity is tempered with some surprisingly subtle orchestral colorations, efficiently pointed up by conductor Brad Cohen, and two stonkingly unsubtle (and much-loved) duets for our heroine and the object of her hatred and heart's desire - the tenor. Aldo Di Toro has a wonderfully natural, open sound throughout the range - a name to watch.
Yvonne Kenny is a name we have watched and a talent we have savoured over the years. The distinctive sound has grown a little grainier, the top of the voice now closes more than it opens to the big moments. But Fedora is a role well-anchored in the middle and bottom of the vocal compass. Kenny still makes valiant attempts at difficult dynamic nuancing and goes for the climaxes with somewhat more determination than the voice can muster.
After one such climax - the foreplay to a night of love - she lets slip the words "in my arms you shall find another mother". Not, perhaps, what the tenor wanted to hear, but a line entirely in keeping with the spirit of the evening.
To 23 June; festival to 5 August (0845 230 9769)
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