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Wexford Festival Opera

The first of this year's Wexford Festival trilogy turns to Italy and resurrects Francesco Cilea's 'L'Arlesiana' of 1897. The richly scored piece, with full-blooded orchestration, shows tinges of Puccini but more positive influences of Mascagni.

'L'Arlesiana' may have fallen from the stock repertoire but its handsome second act tenor aria -- 'E la solita storia del pastore' -- better known as 'Federico's Lament', has become a staple of any tenor worth his salt.

There is also a wonderfully angst-filled mezzo aria in Act II -- 'Esser madre e un inferno' -- but, although stunning in its intensity, remains imprisoned in its context. However, the revival of 'L'Arlesiana' is timely even if Rosetta Cucchi's production in Wexford is somewhat hit and miss.

Her direction works moderately well in the compact first and second acts before tending to flounder in Act III. This may be partly Cilea's fault as his finale sprawls somewhat even if his music retains its powerful edge.

I wish Signora Cucchi did not insist on giving the tragic hero Federico such a consistently hangdog expression and posture and forcing him to sing his magnificent lament lying on a kitchen table. She also introduces an irritating doppelganger figure for him who unnecessarily haunts the background.

In her persistent gloom, the motherly Rosa Mamai clutches herself, the ivy on the wall, the kitchen table and finally a child's bassinet.

As well as all that, the demure Vivetta, in love with Federico despite his attentions being focused on the ephemeral 'female from Arles', is straight out of Hicksville and for some reason shows reluctance in releasing the perspex box she carries!

Together with Claudia Pernigotti's drab costumes, it is really all quite depressing, which is a pity as the cast rises wonderfully to Cilea's onerous demands.

Given the restraints of the production, which by the way is effectively lit by Simon Corder in Sarah Bacon's lofty sets (Act I's farm house is particularly impressive), Russian tenor Dimitry Golovnin produces a fine ringing tone as the besotted Federico.

Italian mezzo Annunziata Vestri, whose extensive range is consistently musical, is the darkly hued Rosa Mamai while soprano Mariangela Sicilia's Vivetta reaches glowing radiance in Act II when persuaded by Rosa Mamai to "tighten her corset" in her attempts at wooing Federico.

Irish Independent