L'Ospedale, Wilton's Music Hall | reviews, news & interviews
L'Ospedale, Wilton's Music Hall
L'Ospedale, Wilton's Music Hall
A clean bill of health for this operatic satire on the healthcare system
Anyone lamenting the current trend for “wellness” and other associated holistic, pseudo-medical fads might want to take themselves for a medicinal trip down to Wilton’s Music Hall for L’Ospedale. There you will discover (best keep the homeopathic drops handy) that 17th-century satirists were there long before fancy Surrey clinics got in on the action.
Anonymous, one-act opera L’Ospedale is a sharply observed piece of social commentary – an operatic Private Eye, with its gaze turned mercilessly on the healthcare system. If that sounds bracing rather than delightful, it’s worth pointing out that the Cavalli-esque score is also rather lovely, and given a pretty unimprovable contemporary premiere here by the young musicians of baroque ensemble Solomon’s Knot.
Set in a hospital, the opera sees four patients relate their (increasingly extreme) case histories to a doctor before each receiving their diagnosis. The elegant twist here is that the “doctor” is in fact an imposter – a politician disguised in order to take a closer look at the system his opening Commons speech (Health’s original prologue) took so vehemently to task.
Wilton’s is an extraordinary venue, but like the Globe’s Wanamaker Playhouse that singularity comes at a price. It’s not an inert theatrical space. If you stage anything here you have to embrace the theatre’s own atmosphere, working in harmony with its shabby historical glamour or consciously chafing against it. Director James Hurley chooses the latter, but so emphatically, so aggressively unlovely are designer Rachel Szmukler’s visuals, so determined to obscure sightlines with strip-lighting and an awkwardly curtained in-the-round set, that the theatre becomes more intrusion that anything else.
What this space does bring to the staging is a wonderful acoustic – studio-clean for solo singing, while ensemble passages ring with church-like resonance. Those 19th-century builders really knew what they were about. A superb cast makes the hall work its hardest for them, whether in the rhythmic clarity of James Halliday’s virtuosic band or the impeccably tuned clarity of two Gesualdo madrigals – moments of chromatic contemplation inserted into the otherwise sunny musical drama.
L’Ospedale really is an ensemble piece, and there’s plenty of generous interplay between the cast of six. Rebecca Moon’s lovelorn Innamorato is the first to tell her tale – a full-Monteverdi of a domestic tragedy, spiced with plenty of unrequited love. Her characterful, lived-in (and loved-in) soprano is set in relief by the purity of Lucy Page’s hospital worker Forestiero (pictured above), world-weary and drained of fight, but whose voice hints at some residual hope. Together they added a gorgeous metallic gloss to the Gesualdo motets in all their uncomfortable beauty.
Quickly dashing initial hopes that he might be our sane guide in this asylum, Thomas Herford casts reason aside and delivers a grippingly deranged performance as Cortigiano, rivalled by Nicholas Merryweather’s mad-eyed Povero, though only outdone for sheer mania by Michal Czerniawski’s Matto. It’s a rich selection of solo voices, from Herford’s lyricism and long phrasing through Czerniawski’s piercing emotional directness to Merryweather’s generous muscularity, but most striking is the blend they achieve in ensembles. Anchoring all is Jonathan Sells’ baritone, bursting with plausible authority and slick lines (the ongoing selfie joke is a winner), he tips the scales of this satire almost level, balancing the insistent attacks of Antonio Abati’s libretto.
I probably wouldn’t rush to hear L’Ospedale again. Anonymous by name, the score – while charming – is also fairly anonymous musically, lacking the melodic personality of a Cavalli or Cesti. Solomon’s Knot, on the other hand, have personality in buckets, and with a couple of London dates in the diary there’s every incentive to get to know this talented collective better.
- L'Ospedale is at Wilton's Music Hall until 21 November
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