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Giordano Fedora
Opera Holland Park 17 June 2006

Fedora – Yvonne Kenny
Loris Ipanov – Aldo Di Toro
De Siriex – Stephen Gadd
Olga – Natasha Marsh
Desiré – Andrew Friedhoff
Gretch – Malcolm Rivers
Cirillo – Grant Doyle
Boroff – Nicholas Butterfield
Lorek – Jean Claude Ohms
Dimitri – Catrin Johnsson
Nicolo – Lynton Black
Sergio – Adam Green
Lazinski – Marco Fatichenti

Director – John Lloyd Davies
Designer – Bob Bailey
Lighting designer – Mike Gunning

City of London Sinfonia & OHP Chorus/Brad Cohen


Opera Holland Park's 2006 Season is off to a fine start with Fedora, which had the advantage of unfamiliarity for many of us.

Giordano is reckoned a 2nd division player in the verismo league, but we enjoyed unashamedly this "good old fahioned romantic melodrama, with scented letters, gunshots in the dark, vows, Byzantine swags and crosses and poisons", set in Tsarist Russia (with locations in Paris and Switzerland for variety). As a result of one letter from the pen of Fedora, no less than five deaths ensue! Robert Thicknesse's essay in the programme magazine is a good read and puts Colautti's adaptation of Sardou's vehicle for Sarah Bernhardt in socio-historical perspective.

Yvonne Kenny was magisterial and in fine voice; a privilege to hear this long-popular diva again, and no allowances needed for the passage of time.

We have recently been enjoying her as Handel's Cleopatra in Sydney (1994): "Yvonne Kenny rivets attention with her authoritative vocal command and captivating presence, causing a frisson as Cleopatra bares all to take her famous milk bath."
[DVD screenshot © EuroArts]

Australian tenor Aldo Di Toro was a magnificent find; well known in Australia and now based in Italy, his ringing tone was just what you want. Natasha Marsh, as Fedora's foil, portrayed with charm and humour a girl who can take lovers and drop them lightly; she would never bring a train of death in her wake. The supporting cast was fine, Catrin Johnsson (Sweden/RAM) eye & ear catching in a trouser role (she's done Nicklaus and Cherubino).

Everyone played a part in this memorable evening, meticulously directed by John Lloyd Davies on a minimally furnished set which achieved transformations in our minds with the simplest devices, and allowed the singers' projection to be enhanced by Bob Bailey's reflective all-purpose backing. Brad Cohen has great rapport with the City of London Sinfonia and a winning way with Italian rubato (q.v. Bellini's La Sonnambula, OHP 2005).

For more reviews of this universally acclaimed production, do look around OHP's website (e.g. "Why can't all operas be like Giordano's shamefully neglected barnstormer? - - " Warwick Thompson, Metro)

The elegant Programme Magazine, edited by Michael Volpe with a team that eschews gimmicky overprinting, is illustrated by Ian Healy with commissioned portraits of principal characters - his thumbnails on the cover shown here. A little more expensive than one ROH opera programme, but you get 6 operas discussed in pertinent depth.


James Clutton, who used to work for the hard-nosed West End producer Bill Kenwright, does the casting and gets the shows up and running; Michael Volpe, formerly in the hotel business, does the marketing and general management. They could teach their opposite numbers at ENO a thing or two. (Rupert Christiansen in Telegraph.co.uk) [JC (L) with MV pictured: Oliver Linn]

Fedora Extracts of notes from pre-performance discussion: James Clutton and Michael Volpe 10 June 2006


JC  ...This piece presents us with particular problems presenting it at Holland Park . The first act starts at night, in an enclosed space, surrounded by darkness and cold. Here we have just the opposite conditions – and there is no hiding space on our stage – all the truth comes out very easily. OHP's trademark is to cast singers who can act.

MV   Fedora is one of 12 operas by Giordano but only 2 have made it into the repertoire. There is lots of colour in the music which very effectively creates a narrative.  Musically it is very lyrical with one of the finest intermezzi in this repertoire. Although the opera is set in Russia, Paris and Switzerland (and the composer has built quite a few Russian motifs into the music) it remains at heart truly an Italian opera, full of sentiment. There is one critical scene which is accompanied only by a piano – it's one of the great moments of the opera.

JC   Once the opera has been decided it's my job to brief the director and his team. In this case I wanted something between an early Agatha Christie and a Chekov play. It is set in 1898 and played straight to period. I told the director that no one knows it so you don't have to turn it into “your Fedora”, keep it straight and just tell the story. As you will see, we have spent a lot of money on frocks. We went for the straight decision about the scene with concert pianist; there is a Steinway grand on stage

JC   A winter's night in St Petersburg gives me a problem immediately, especially this week,. We need to use heavy costumes and simulate dark night. We normally hire our costumes but for this production we had a dresses specially made for Yvonne Kenny, one for each act – she is a star and she r is called in to describe what he has seen to the police. It isis playing the part of a princess. Fedora needs to be a singer, actor and a “star”. We are delighted to have Yvonne Kenny – it was a big day for OHP when we got confirmation that she had agreed to sing for us.

We are delighted to have Aldo Di Toro as Loris (yes, that is his real name), an Australian who was found for us by the conductor, Brad Cohen. Olga is sung by Natasha Marsh.  The coach driver's small role is being sung by Grant Doyle who has been through the Young Singers programme at Covent Garden . It is great that we can attract singers of that quality, but we have to balance this with giving a chance for members of the chorus to progress.  The two small trouser roles are taken by Catrin Johnsson (Dmitri and an offstage boy). At one point in the action Dmitri has to play an accordion, whilst they were wondering how to stage this, Catrin told them that she happens to play accordion – so she does!

MV   A review in The Times has described Fedora as “An opera that has everything going for it except the music”. I think that is unjust. Verismo is dismissed by some people who belittle it, but no bar of music is wasted. You need to see verismo on stage – Sarah Bernhardt had a big success in Sardou's play that is the basis for this opera. Most opera companies would shy away from verismo – OHP have made a feature of it, we can put on Fedora and it is sold out. It's unusual so it attracts more critics – this gives us more press coverage and it's a knock on effect...



Photo of Yvonne Kenny as Fedora by Colin Willoughby; most OHP others on OHP website are by Fritz Curzon







© Peter Grahame Woolf