Margot la Rouge/Le Villi review – Puccini and Delius rarities create double bill with daddy issues

Opera Holland Park, London
Puccini’s first opera proves heady and entertaining in Martin Lloyd-Evans’ staging; singing the lead role in this and Delius’s Margot La Rouge, Anne Sophie Duprels impresses alongside a strong supporting cast

Even by the standards of Opera Holland Park, which likes to serve up at least one unfamiliar work each year, this double bill is obscure stuff. Puccini fans may have heard of his first opera, Le Villi, but are unlikely to have seen it staged; Delius’s Margot la Rouge is an opera not even its composer ever got to hear.

In Martin Lloyd-Evans’s stagings, each starts with the same tableau – a father and daughter sitting together, before the daughter walks out of the door. Any link between the two operas is tenuous, but perhaps both are cautionary tales: look what happens, girls, if you leave your daddy’s arms! Both possible eventualities – prostitution; death from a broken heart – are covered, Lloyd-Evans telling the stories straightforwardly in a set by takis that centres on a cabin whizzing round on a slightly overused revolve: a few posters and chairs turn it into Margot’s bar; a few flowers and it’s Anna’s garden in Le Villi.

Anne Sophie Duprels as Anna and Peter Auty as Roberto in Puccini’s Le Villi.
Bit schlocky, very creepy … Anne Sophie Duprels as Anna and Peter Auty as Roberto in Puccini’s Le Villi. Photograph: Ali Wright

At times Margot la Rouge sounds like an orchestral piece with optional voices, but that’s the fault of Delius rather than of Francesco Cilluffo, who conducts the City of London Sinfonia exuberantly yet sensitively. Delius was inspired to some muscular music by this French-language text, a short, blood-spattered story of a Parisian prostitute whose lost childhood sweetheart walks into her bar. It’s the kind of thing Puccini would end up being drawn to; indeed, there’s a touch of La Bohème in the supple, carefree rhythms when the bar is bustling early on. And bustle it does: the huge supporting cast is solid, several stepping out from the chorus. In the title role, Anne Sophie Duprels sounds aptly worldly yet mysterious. Samuel Sakker sings long-lost Thibault in a burly tenor but is outdone by Paul Carey Jones’s resonant thuggish Artist; Sarah Minns sounds bright and pointed as Lili, whose jealousy gets the blood flowing.

Duprels also takes the lead role in Le Villi, a heady, gothic piece based on the same story of ghostly revenge as the ballet Giselle. This time she’s the one abandoned, by Peter Auty’s faithless Roberto. Again, her singing is beautifully detailed but with the softest parts of phrases apt to disappear behind the orchestra. Stephen Gadd sings with authority as her father, delivering not one but two melodramatic narrations. Lloyd-Evans gives us shadows and open graves and witchy veiled women who dance with empty black suits that appear from nowhere. It’s a little bit schlocky, very creepy, and thoroughly entertaining.

• In rep until 6 August at Opera Holland Park, London.


Erica Jeal

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Manon Lescaut review – Puccini updated to the swinging 60s
Elizabeth Llewellyn is an exciting voice, but Karolina Sofulak’s uneven new production doesn’t quiet set the pulse racing

Erica Jeal

05, Jun, 2019 @11:15 AM

Article image
La Bohème review – fine performances but Puccini is swamped by busy staging
Although musically very strong and with Katie Bird a lovely Mimi, Natascha Metherell’s relocation of Puccini’s bohemians to a 1950s film studio brings as many distractions as it does insights

Tim Ashley

20, Jul, 2023 @1:23 PM

La Rondine – review

Tom Hawkes's production manages to give Puccini's lamentably escapist work a bit of depth, writes Martin Kettle

Martin Kettle

11, Jul, 2011 @8:30 PM

Article image
Tosca; La rondine; Arensky Chamber Orchestra – review
Three's a crowd-pleaser as Kaufmann, Terfel and Gheorghiu vie with tumultuous applause in Tosca, writes Fiona Maddocks

Fiona Maddocks

16, Jul, 2011 @11:07 PM

Puccini: Tosca - review
The first entry in a new series of archive releases by the New York Metropolitan Opera is stupendous, full of electricity and malevolence, writes Tim Ashley

Tim Ashley

10, Mar, 2011 @10:45 PM

Article image
La Bohème review – Scottish Opera's Covid-safe Puccini is a triumph
Scottish Opera’s witty, colourful and superbly sung production manages to capture the spirit of the piece while sticking to the social-distancing rules

Rowena Smith

07, Sep, 2020 @1:39 PM

Puccini: Tosca – review
Karita Mattila's extraordinary sense of theatre makes her compelling to watch in this performance of Tosca from the New York Met, filmed during the opening run of Luc Bondy's controversial production in 2009, writes Tim Ashley

Tim Ashley

09, Dec, 2010 @10:15 PM

Article image
Turandot review – Opera North show how you solve a problem like Puccini
This semi-staged version of Puccini’s experimental, grandiose final opera makes it more like an oratorio, and puts a bloodthirsty chorus at the centre of the action

Alfred Hickling

30, Apr, 2017 @1:10 PM

Puccini/Mascagni double bill, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

George Hall

01, Mar, 2005 @12:01 AM

Article image
Puccini: Turandot review | Classical CD of the week
Puccini’s original score was ‘finished’ by Franco Alfano, whose additions are heard uncut on this dramatic all-star recording

Erica Jeal

09, Mar, 2023 @3:00 PM