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Il Bravo review at National Opera House, Wexford – ‘an exciting rediscovery’

Alessandro Luciano and Ekaterina Bakanova in Il Bravo at National Opera House, Wexford. Photo: Clive Barda
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Major companies rarely glance at works by Saverio Mercadante, a prolific and admired older contemporary of Donizetti and Bellini who lived long enough to be totally eclipsed by Verdi; but at the Wexford Festival – where long-lost scores are routinely unearthed – with this production by the director/designer team of Renaud Doucet and Andre Barbe of his 1839 success, Il Bravo (The Assassin), no fewer than six of his scores have now enjoyed full-scale revivals.

The plot is impossibly cumbersome, with many of its secrets undisclosed until the final act: yet even given that the setting in 16th-century Venice frequently dictates masks, it seems odd that the two main roles – the Bravo and the courtesan Teodora – only realise that they were once husband and wife near the very end of the show. Having the Bravo himself impersonated by another character for most of the opera merely adds to the confusion.

The music, though, is strong and imaginatively written, vindicating Mercadante’s compositional skills, if not his choice of libretto.

Doucet and Barbe don’t help matters by adding a second visual layer involving modern Venetian tourism and the threat posed to the city by visiting ocean-going liners. That said, the period costumes are splendid, the acting performances never less than willing and the singing exciting.

Rubens Pelizzari’s hefty tenor gives the tortured assassin weight and dignity, while Yasko Sato finds vivid expressivity for the sequence of extreme situations she experiences as his rediscovered wife.

Gustavo Castillo swaggers as the overentitled patrician Foscari while Alessandro Luciano is bold and bracing as his rival Pisani – often disguised as the Bravo for reasons that defy explanation. Outstanding is Ekaterina Bakanova as their love-object Violetta, her vocal technique exceptional and deployed to thrilling effect.

Jonathan Brandani conducts purposefully, drawing full-throated singing from the chorus and vigorous playing from the orchestra.

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Triumphing over a complex plot, Mercadante’s forgotten opera proves an exciting rediscovery