The Two Widows

Posted on: 28 August 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

The highlight of Edinburgh Festival 2008, provided by Scottish Opera.

The real discovery of the Festival was Smetana’s rarely performed opera The Two Widows which Scottish Opera brought to the festival in a stylish new production, at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre, snug in English.

Two young widows living a quiet country life have sharply contrasting attitudes to life. Karolina lives for the future, enjoys life and love and runs her estate with great independence. Her cousin Anezka, dressed in mourning, is in denial of her true feelings, wishes to remain faithful to her husband and buries herself in the past. However when a handsome stranger appears, Karolina guesses his reasons and instigates a mischievous game of love and jealousy.

The opera is based on a French farce by Jean Pierre Felicien, Mallefille, which Smetana has transposed to the world of the Czech landed gentry. His aim was to write an opera in ‘the distinguished salon style’ to show that the Czech repertoire could contain more than folksy or high-toned patriotic pieces.

Directors Tobias Hoheisel and Imogen Kogge have managed to transform this drawing room comedy into something that digs deeper without losing the inherent charm of the piece. The salon is a frame for witty exchanges set to Smetana’s melodic, folk inspired music - a surreal place where certainties become uncertain and reality is constantly questioned.

This production is indeed a joy to behold, a riot of colour and feast for the eyes, with many inventive touches such as a large rectangular picture frame which acts as a ruse with character ‘doubles’ mirroring and making fun of their other halves.

Acting and singing throughout is of a very high standard, especially Kate Valentine as a vibrant Karolina, Jane Irwin as the more subdued Anezka, David Pomeroy as the love object and Nicholas Folwell as the clownish gamekeeper, while the Orchestra of Scottish Opera under its new musical director Francesco Corti splendidly rises to the occasion and keeps things moving at a brisk pace.

A truly life affirming show!

By Laurence Green

Web Links - Edinburgh International Festival website

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