Magazine article The Spectator

Gloomy Power

Magazine article The Spectator

Gloomy Power

Article excerpt

Opera

Gloomy power

The Miserly Knight; Gianni Schicchi

Glyndebourne

Half a Sixpence

Guildhall

Dialogues des Carmelites

Royal College of Music

Glyndebourne has chosen to mount a themed double bill, the connecting subject being avarice. The most famous one-acter on that topic is Puccini's Gianni Schicchi, which occupies the after-dinner part of the occasion. For the more sober first half they have made a most peculiar choice: Rachmaninov's The Miserly Knight, one of his trilogy of operas. It is a work of dramatic anti-distinction, following very closely one of Pushkin's Little Tragedies, which tend to be accorded exaggerated deference in Russia, simply on account of their authorship. Even the essay in the Glyndebourne programme book suggests that it's no accident that the short play wasn't set to music sooner. It is almost wholly lacking in incident, not to mention development or interaction; there is simply the motive of accumulation, which is given fairly powerful expression in the long central monologue, sung by the Baron, the figure whose chief torment consists of the horror of the thought that someone will inherit his wealth. The previous scene consists of his son desperately trying to borrow from a Jewish moneylender, the last one is a brief confrontation between father and son, with father challenged to a duel but dying of an unspecified complaint.

Annabel Arden directs, and makes this piece of dramatic unsalvageability worse by having two time-consuming scene changes. Besides the specified cast of five, there is an aerialist, the virtuoso Matilda Leyser, who spins around over the set and may suggest Death. Fascinating to watch, she doesn't contribute to the piece's momentum. The justification for playing it is entirely musical, for, like the composer's Francesca da Rimini, recently done by Opera North, there is a gloomy power there, beginning with a slow-moving obsessive prelude. And the music, uniformly dark apart from a little sardonic banter between the Moneylender and Albert the son, rolls on impressively for slightly more than an hour, but the voices are mere obbligati. Sergei Leiferkus as the miser is less sonorous than he used to be, the others are adequate. Vladimir Jurowski builds up the climaxes, and the orchestra plays with a conviction which one wishes one could share. I sensed a relief when it was over.

Gianni Schicchi is updated to the early years of the last century, as is now virtually obligatory for all operas. …

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