Different summer opera festivals tend to ring the changes imaginatively from each other in terms of repertoire, according to the resources at hand. With its delightful and intimate gardens, West Green has been able to make a worthwhile foray into smaller-scale one-Act stage-works, alongside the main couple of productions offered annually in its larger auditorium.
Complementing Rossini’s La Cenerentola this year is his earlier farsa L’Inganno Felice, premiered in 1812 before the composer’s twentieth-birthday, and one of a handful of such works he wrote for a theatre in Venice.
The ‘fortunate deception’ of the title is that Isabella, having been spirited away by the villainous Ormondo who was in love with her, is discovered some years later by her husband, Duke Bertrando, in the safekeeping of a local miner, Tarabotto, disguised as the latter’s niece, ‘Nisa’. Cue, then, the unlikely if happy reunion of Bertrando and Isabella.
Matthew Burns’s production employs an economy of means, using very few props, more or less contemporary costumes, and no set as such, which seems a pity as it rather downplays the central dramatic event of the recognition and revelation of ‘Nisa’ as Isabella. It is largely left to the singers to fill in the gaps for the audience’s imagination through their gestures and acting, and they commendably make more of the drama than the slight scenario particularly warrants, just as Rossini enlivened the libretto with some characterful and accomplished music.The uncredited English translation used here is evidently adapted, rather than literal, and its amusing rhymes complement the high spirits of the score.
Elizabeth Karani projects the part of the wronged Isabella strongly, with some accomplished coloratura which demonstrates the full command of vocal technique Rossini was already demanding at so young an age. Thomas Humphreys offers a lithe and witty account of Tarabotto, and Adam Temple-Smith rises to the part of Duke Bertrando with an aristocratic coolness and control, even if he is a touch strained in a part that tends towards the lyrical rather than heroic. Although it is Ormondo’s actions which have led to the events of the drama, he is given a relatively small role, but Timothy Dickinson realises it with dark-toned depth, ably aided by Jab Capinski as his partner-in-crime, Batone.
Oliver Gooch keeps the musical action moving in a reduced arrangement, and with Orpheus Sinfonia builds a suitable head of steam in Rossini’s characteristically fizzy ensembles. Support from the continuo in the recitatives is dutiful, but could display more panache.