Wexford Festival Opera in its 59th year is again bracing itself for a possible change of direction and the dominant theme of reviving neglected shows wavers a bit as it goes into a special 60th year. Yes, it is going into partnership with contemporary productions that are as much an event as a critical success, with The Golden Ticket. However, it was the neglected 19th century opera Virginia by Savero Mercadante that won the plaudits with a superb soprano Angela Meade in the title role. This was big sing opera with a sixty or more strong orchestra. This was a powerful reminder of what Wexford does best – quality singing and strong musical values.
Virginia is described as lyric tragedy as the virginal Virginia is forced in 451BC Rome into the lascivious clutches of a Patrician ruler Appio (tenor Ivan Magri) and she is a plebeian. Of course, she would prefer death rather than dishonour – a theme that is still relevant in parts of the world.
Kevin Newbury’s direction moves the production from golden grapes and Roman bacchanalia to a Formica fitted kitchen with stainless steel sink and the baddies become pinstriped Mafiosi. The transition is so broad that at the end the rapturous audience actually booed the baddies.
But it is the music and wonderful singing that wowed this audience and Hugh Russell as a rather young father Virginio and bass Gianluca Buratto added much to the vocal power.
It is at opera like this that it seems fitting that the audience dress up in finery and the sideshow as to whether tuxedos should be worn or not seems like an irrelevancy but in the wings as it were, of social media you get a previous Chief Executive saying he was sacked for not wearing a tie.
What next, a kangaroo in the audience?