IL CAPPELLO DI PAGLIA DI FIRENZE
THE THEATRE ROYAL, Wexford
The 62nd Wexford Opera opens with sparkling effervescence through Nino Rota's Il Cappello di paglia di Firenze ('The Florentine Straw Hat') at the town's splendid Theatre Royal.
Born in Milan in 1911, Rota studied there, in Rome and later Philadelphia. Initially following a fairly traditional path, signing a film contract in 1942 veered his career to the cinema in both Italy and Hollywood with scores for Amarcord, La Dolce Vita, Death on the Nile, and The Godfather among his significant work.
But in 1945 he composed The Florentine Straw Hat – based on a French farce set in Paris. Writing his own libretto, with assistance from his artistic mother Ernesta, the opera was premièred in Palermo in 1955.
The plot, revolving around the search for a replacement hat when the hero's horse chews up the original, may be slight and silly but Rota's music has an air of sophistication in a brilliant neo-Rossini style that bristles with energised activity. With touches of Verdi and Puccini, it slows somewhat in Act III but its momentum is highly entertaining, if a little exhausting!
The action is superbly managed through the slick imagination of director Andrea Cigni, who successfully advances its period to the 1950s. Lorenzo Cutùli's ingenious designs have advertising posters flanking the raised and slanted floor that is a large Parisian-scene postcard with cunning trap doors. His costumes also colourfully reflect the period.
Filippo Adami, stepping in at relatively short notice as Fadinard, who is forced to find a replacement chapeau on his wedding day, leads the excellent cast with aplomb.
Fitting into the staging like a glove, his role is taxing both physically and vocally but Sig Adami is as fleet of foot as he is nimble of voice.
As his bride Elena, soprano Claudia Boyle scores another coloratura triumph, while mezzo Asude Karayavuz is the alluring, amusing Baroness von Champigny. Soprano Eleanor Lyons brings a nice touch of feigned innocence to the unfaithful Anaide, owner of the offending hat in the first place.
Bass-baritone Filippo Fontana adds positive depth to Beaupertuis, Anaide's long-suffering husband, while bass Salvatore Salvaggio finds humour and pathos in his interpretation of Elena's father, Nonancourt. Aled Hall is the deaf and gluttonous uncle of the bride who holds the opera's denouement in his Florentine wedding present.
Sympathetic conductor Sergio Alapont drives the pastiche with panache, with balance between stage and pit gelling perfectly. But teamwork and split-second timing are the essence of this hilarious festival froth.