Donizetti’s Maria di Rudenz at Wexford

The Wexford Festival has a fine record for reviving forgotten or neglected Donizetti but the recent performances of Maria de Rudenz will not feature among its successes. The work itself is neither better nor worse than many of its ilk – a tale of love succumbing to betrayal and revenge – but stage director Fabio Ceresa tried too hard to supply it with extra appeal. Giving it the Gothic treatment with painted faces and weird costumes as the characters clamber their way around a haunted castle was not, by itself, a bad idea, but there was too much complexity of movement and activity. Significantly the most successful scene was that in which the two principal characters were locked together in the centre of the castle with nothing going on around them. Most irritating of all was the addition of puppets playing out the main action in imitation of the real thing. The device would have been valid if used solely as a prologue to set the scene, but its constant reappearance distracted the audience from the singing and trivialised the drama.

Conductor Andrew Greenwood, the chorus and orchestra contributed energy and enthusiasm to the performance; they could not however sufficiently compensate for some disappointing solo work. As Corrado, Joo Won Kang deployed his powerful baritone to good effect, but the delivery and phrasing lacked colour and variety. Vocally, the singer imported for Rambaldo was totally inadequate and Jesus Garcia’s tenor for Enrico was, like my hair, thin on top. Fortunately, in the title role, Gilda Fiume carried the show, the single artist present capable of reaching festival standards in this bel canto repertory. Her fluid soprano dispatched the runs with ease and with a dramatic edge that gave an emotional thrust to her declamations; it also produced beautifully spun pianissimi and elegant phrasing. So we could go home happy at least about something.