Opera in the City Festival opens its third season with what must be a UK premiere, and a great rarity anywhere: a performance of a student piece by the half-Croatian, half-Italian Antonio Smareglia (1854-1929).
A successful composer in his lifetime, with three major premieres at La Scala, he’s now scarcely remembered outside his native Croatia, from where this production emanates.
Performed here with a piano accompaniment – skilfully played by Stjepan Vuger – Caccia Lontana is no great shakes as a drama, but it would clearly have notifed those present at the Milan Conservatory premiere in 1875 that he possessed genuine talent.
Distant Hunt is a short two-hander in which a page (mezzo Sofija Cingula) finds himself in love with his mistress (soprano Jelena Stefanic) – who happily returns his feelings. In other words, there’s little in the way of drama, though the music is undeniably lyrical.
Both singers in this simple staging offer voices of quality, but they cannot give the piece a tension it inherently lacks.
It is preceded here by a film with English subtitles made by Drazen Kresic and Julia Klier and introducing the composer to a Croatian audience.
Anyone who has heard Smareglia’s other works, many of them available on live CD recordings, will know that the composer’s distinctive voice is well worth getting to know: try Nozze Istriane – Istrian Wedding — for example. But even in a stronger performance than this, Caccia Lontana is an apprentice piece that can give only a limited idea of his capabilities.