Of the many cute touches in Alasdair Middleton and Jonathan Dove's cutesome adaptation of Carlo Collodi's The Adventures of Pinocchio, the cutest by far is the final chord. After burning, hanging, flying, lying, being turned into a donkey, swallowed by a whale, and belatedly learning the value of hard labour, Pinocchio, whose selfishness is all too human, has at last realised his oft-repeated ambition "to be good". His reward? A simple major triad to sweeten his rueful minor-key refrain.
Three hours is an awfully long time to wait for a tierce de Picardie. But from the first cry of "Make me!" to the final rhyme of "wood" and "good", Pinocchio works hard to entertain. Energetically staged by Martin Duncan, lavishly dressed by designer Francis O'Connor, winningly sung by Victoria Simmonds (Pinocchio), Jonathan Summers (Geppetto), Mary Plazas (The Blue Fairy), Rebecca Bottone (Cricket), Mark Wilde (Cat), James Laing (Fox), Graeme Broadbent (Ringmaster) and Allan Clayton (Lampwick), and handsomely, if noisily, played by the Opera North orchestra under David Parry, each episode of the short-trousered anti-hero's adventures is studded with musical treats that melt in the mouth and the memory too.
As the puppet grows into a boy, the blunt crack of a slap-stick mellows into the warm tones of a marimba. There's a dash of Janacek here, a slice of Ravel, a twist of Strauss, a glow of Dvorak, a pinch of Dankworth, a wash of Britten, a nudge of de Falla, a splash of Piazzolla, even a hefty dollop of Wagner with the whale playing Fafner to Pinocchio's Siegfried neatly threaded through a score whose core is a pumped-up hybrid of Adams and Bernstein (but where is Dove?). Middleton's lyrics, when audible, are smart rather than brilliant, and though Pinocchio the character eventually achieves his dream of being fully human, Pinocchio the show remains trapped in a half-life: part-opera, part-musical, flamboyantly orchestrated but lacking a killer tune. Say what you like about Disney, but at least the movie had "When you wish upon a star".
So from Dove's 21st opera to Donizetti's fifth, Emilia di Liverpool, which opened in the jewel-box Concert Room of St George's Hall in Liverpool on New Year's Eve. Staged by Opera Europe with little more than a plywood tomb, a flash of strobe lighting and a puff of dry ice, Donizetti's bizarre semiseria is a lurid drama of accidental matricide, supernatural visions, moonlit duels and white slavery wrapped up in a rambunctious Neapolitan comedy. Imagine Lucia di Lammermoor being treated by Doctor Dulcamara and you may understand why Emilia has fallen into obscurity. Yet it is ravishingly scored, with dark divisi strings, softly blooming woodwind, jolly patter songs and heart-clutching coloratura crises, often at the same time.
Save for one clumsy piece of additional dialogue, director Ignacio Garcia presented Emilia without apology or irony. As Claudio, Marc Canturri snarled with authority while Vasco Fracanzani twiddled his moustache, flashed his teeth, raised a rakish eyebrow and rattled off Don Romualdo's comic numbers in a chewy Neapolitan dialect.
Adriana Festeu and Joëlle Fleury offered appropriately solemn and saucy support as Candida and Luigia, and Philippe Talbot sang gracefully as the tenor love-rat, Federico. Most affecting was Francesca Park (Emilia), a strong singing actress with a lovely sheen to her top notes, excellent coloratura and remarkable stamina. A name to watch, and well worth catching should you happen to be in Gdansk (19 and 20 January ) or Bremen (24, 25 and 26 January).
'Pinocchio': Grand Theatre, Leeds (0844 848 2720), 24 and 26 January, then touring
Further reading Ann Lawson Lucas's translation of 'The Adventures of Pinocchio' (Oxford World's Classics)Reuse content