Francesco Cilea’s L’Arlesiana – based on Daudet’s play L’Arlésienne, a tragic love story set in a Provencal village – never achieved the success of his next opera, Adriana Lecouvreur.
In the honourable tradition of highlighting lesser-known pieces, Opera Holland Park has mounted three new productions since 1998, and L’Arlesiana is no longer a rarity but a staple.
Under three hours long, Cilea’s score is full of melody and atmosphere, and it’s played with evident enjoyment and lightness of touch by the City of London Sinfonia under the popular young conductor Dane Lam. Alyson Cummins’ designs evoke a wartime Provençal farming village, with hints of Nazi flag-burning and Resistance activity.
Federico, the role that introduced Enrico Caruso to the world, must be one of most self-obsessed of all verismo tenor heroes, but he has some great music. In love with a mysterious girl from Arles, he is forced by his mother to court Fflur Wyn’s demure girl-next-door, Vivetta, but shoots himself before their wedding day.
Samuel Sakker’s attractive, well-produced tenor has the heft for this verismo role, but not enough emotional pull. He could have been styled more flatteringly; his combed-down hair and sober suit suggested an accountant rather than a village Lothario.
The most emotionally affecting performance of Oliver Platt’s production is Yvonne Howard as Federico’s mother, Rosa Mamai. With Esser Madre è un Inferno – “It’s hell being a mother”, she gives a masterclass in anguish, appealing to the heavens to save her son from suicide but failing to prevent the tragedy.