Mercadante’s Il Bravo at the Wexford Festival

Let it be said at once that Mercadante’s opera Il bravo is fundamentally unrevivable; and the Wexford Festival should be congratulated – or otherwise – for its attempt (bravo!). The plot is unbelievably contorted and complex. After a fourth reading of the synopsis in the programme of the first act, I was so mystified as to who was who and how they were related to each other, that I gave up at that point; and, if you had asked me at the end to summarise what had happened to the various characters, I could not have done so. In such circumstances, you might have expected that the production team would have done their very best to facilitate audience comprehension by employing staging devices, for example mimed action of previous events, to enhance the narrative. My experience earlier this year of the work of the Canadian French duo of Renaud Doucet and André Barbe was not auspicious in this respect (see my blog of their awful Matrimonio segreto in Cologne – and if anything, they made matters worse, as if taking delight in obfuscation. Il bravo was confusingly set partly in Venice, partly in a mountainous landscape; costumes were from different periods; and, to cap it all, the protagonists were complemented by a group of contemporary tourists wandering around the stage and taking “selfies”. Yes, Venice has been badly spoiled by invasions from cruise ships but to use this opera as a vehicle for protesting against the phenomenon is both gratuitous and perverse, particularly when there was a desperate need for clarification of the drama.

There are some who consider Mercadante the most unjustifiably neglected of Italian 19th century opera composers. I am not one of them, but I do admit that the vigorous forward thrust of his vocal writing, in the manner of early Verdi, is dramatically exciting and successfully complements character portrayal. And so, musically, with Jonathan Brandani stoking up energy in the pit, there was no little compensation for the shortcomings of the Wexford production. The cast was of uneven quality. Rubens Pelizzari in the title role displayed a brilliant tenor which, when it was not too loud, most effectively communicated the highs and lows of his emotional plight. In contrast, in the role of Pisani, the voice of the second tenor, Alessandro Luciano, became at times dangerously thin. Gustavo Castillo gave a solid performance as the patrician Foscari. Yasko Sato as Teodora cut a convincing figure on the stage but her singing was marred by an excessive vibrato. As her daughter Violetta, Russian soprano Ekaterina Bakanova stole the show. If her pre-Raphaelite appearance and the intensity of her acting were not enough, she sang superbly with great purity of tone in the upper register and with finely spun soft notes.

I was glad to have attended this performance but will not rush to see Il bravo again.