Cimarosa’s Italiana in Londra at Frankfurt

With the possible exception of Il Matrimonio Segreto, Cimarosa’s operas are not widely known, and that is strange, given their musical qualities and theatrically comic content. As the performance at Frankfurt confirmed, that is particularly the case with L’Italiana in Londra, a piece about romantic relationships going wrong or failing to start and containing some delightfully eccentric characters. While much of it is farcical, there are some reflective passages which add a serious dimension to the work and give it some depth.

British conductor Leo Hussain much exploited Cimarosa’s witty score, maintaining a lively momentum throughout. This cannot have been easy because one of the key singers withdrew with illness and her part had to be taken by two substitutes performing from the wings; one for the arias, the other for the recitatives. Given the extent to which the opera involves intricate ensembles, the flawless handling of the problem by all concerned was truly remarkable.

American director R.B.Schlather was responsible for the superb production. Slick in its movements, sharp in its portrayal of national caricatures and inventive in terms of stage business, without undue exaggeration of any of these features, it proved to be highly entertaining while also engaging the audience with the characters and their predicaments. By the end, one had come to think of them as old friends. All of this was much assisted by Paul Steinberg’s simple stage designs: at the centre a massive revolving cylinder with, at times, doors available for farce-like entrances and exits. Indeed, in his comments published in the programme, Schlather refers to  Brian Rix as an influence (so the later episode in which two of the males dropped their trousers came as no surprise).

As usual, the Frankfurt Opera sported a first-rate cast. In the title role, Angela Vallone displayed an attractive lyrical soprano, as well as an ability to cope with the adversities arising from human frailties, and also an over-abundant costume.  As her erstwhile and sometime to be renewed lover, Ukrainian baritone Iurii Samoilov did not hold back on his vocal hectoring but maintained throughout a pleasing timbre. His ultimate conversion from a disgruntled outsider to an amorous suitor was most convincing.  Tenor Theo Lebow combined elegant vocalism with sharp comic play and Gordon Bintner, lured into fantasy by the hostess (here acted by the associate director Nina Brazier) who has an eye for the future with him, was outstanding in his spontaneous stage antics, while not forsaking the role’s musical demands which he met with warm colours and nicely varied phrasing. The admirable singing substitutes for the hostess were Florina Ilie and Cecelia Hall.

A sizzling good experience, confirming the qualities to be had in Frankfurt.