This year marks the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s death, and his life and works are being celebrated around the world with exhibitions, documentaries and publications.
Leonardo, a new opera composed by Alex Mills with a libretto by Brian Mullin, explores the human side of the ultimate Renaissance man.
But in choosing to focus on Leonardo’s private life – particularly his relationships (one romantic) with two apprentices – this one-act opera diminishes the exceptional nature of the man and somehow that matters.
It is, admittedly, all too easy to find oneself being overly reverential to this artist, architect, naturalist, inventor and scientist, yet even with his drawings projected on the stage and the use of his own words, the Leonardo that emerges is a oddly drab figure. While intriguing at times, this new opera is not a masterpiece for the ages.
Most of the opera is set in Leonardo’s home, where apprentices Salai (perfect pouting characterisation and lyrical singing from countertenor Feargal Mostyn-Williams) and Francesco Melzi (a solid performance from Richard Immergluck) vie for the attention of Tom Randle’s conflicted Leonardo.
Like Mills’ recent one-act show Dear Marie Stopes, Leonardo draws on original source material, in this case the notebooks. Musically, the three singers are given contrasting vocal lines – jagged for the agitated Leonardo, sensual and rounded for Sali, sure and steady for Melzi – set against a gentle carpet of sound from the viol consort Fretwork. The intricately decorated Lydia and Manfred Gorvy Lecture Theatre at the V&A makes the ideal setting for this simply staged production.