Opera Holland Park has long specialised in the reclamation of verismo operas and they don’t come grander than Isabeau, which combines a pseudo-medieval setting with the ever pertinent theme of the wrong visited upon women in male-dominated societies.
As is her custom, OHP stalwart Anne Sophie Duprels is nothing if not committed in the title role, playing a princess publicly humiliated when she turns down her suitors. In the most sensational scene she is forced to ride naked through the streets by her father King Raimondo (big voiced Russian bass Mikhail Svetlov) – the story is both an extension of the Lady Godiva legend and a precursor of Turandot.
As the bell-bedecked, vaguely Straussian Intermezzo swells, director Martin Lloyd-Evans and his team provide tactful toile and a metallic puppet horse, their modular set in perpetual motion. Folco, the naive visionary who catches a forbidden glimpse, is gloriously sung by David Butt Philip. He despatches the opera’s only vaguely familiar tenor number with career-defining fervour. Isabeau falls for him, love transcending shame, but we know not to expect a happy ending in this kind of period melodrama. The villainous advisor, Cornelius (George von Bergen, excellent) takes care of that.
Well co-ordinated from the pit by Francesco Cilluffo making his OHP debut, there were glitches on opening night: the castle’s plywood keep failed to revolve and the brick battlements proved unwieldy. In truth the through-composed music mostly disappoints, four-square and stolid, but the performers, including the City of London Sinfonia and a substantial, well-drilled chorus, give it their all.