City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

The Two Widows

By Iain Gilmour - Posted on 18 August 2008

Show details
Scottish Opera
Running time: 
Bedrich Smetana (composer), Tobias Hoheisel & Imogen Kogge (directors)
Kate Valentine (Karolina Zaleska), Jane Irwin (Anezka Miletinska), Nicholas Folwell (Mumlal), David Pomeroy (Ladislav Podhajsky), Ben Johnson (Tonik), Rebecca Ryan (Lidka), The Two Widows Chorus, James Grossmith (chorus master), The Scottish Opera Orchestra, Francesco Corti (conductor)

This welcome return by Scottish Opera to the Edinburgh Festival after too-long an absence was better-than well received by a capacity audience, causing frequent laughter throughout Smetana's comedy of manners.

It has to be said that The Two Widows is not of the quality found in the Czech composer's other work, even though it received several hundred performances between 1874 and the end of World War Two. Some highly regarded opera books do not even include it in their list of Smetana operas.

The trite plot centres on two aristocratic widows with contrary outlooks on widowhood - the rich, worldly-wise Karolina and her cousin Anezka, firmly fixed in her funereal widow's weeds. There are only two other main roles - the devoted, thwarted lover Ladislav, and Karolina's loyal servant Mumlal, a trusted gamekeeper fond of the bottle. A secondary love interest is provided by the young peasant couple Tonik and Lidka.

The music was pleasant and easy on the ear, the principal singers, chorus and orchestra generally in good form, and the simple but ingenious set effective and visually attractive.

Almost all the rear of the drawing room set was taken up by an enormous, landscape-backed picture window through which the chorus tumbled from time to time. It doubled as a mirror occasionally when bit players mimed the principals in irrelevant, unnecessary additions which reduced a comic opera to the level of a pantomime farce.

The lively overture promised much, as did the boisterous "Lovely Morning" opening chorus of villagers arriving to invite their feudal superior to the annual harvest festival. With Karolina's "Independently I Rule" response - Smetana's first piece of coloratura - Kate Valentine raised hope the promise would be fulfilled.

Apart from some emotionally gripping episodes from Anezka (Jane Irwin) in the second act and a few ensemble pieces, that hope wasn't realised. David Pomeroy playing Ladislav, the rejected lover who turned poacher to get close to his beloved (never managing to hit anything), was uneven at times.

Mumlal (Nicholas Folwell) mumbled and drank his way through his part with actions and gestures that nicely fitted the role.

Eventually, of course, Anezka rejects her funereal garb for a ball gown and welcomes Ladislav's devotion. The chorus joyfully proclaim "The Lord really loves us" and a lively polka brings the curtain down.

New Scottish Opera Music Director Francesco Corti conducted forcefully.

Times: Aug 9, 11, 12 at 20:00

C: Iain Gilmour August 2008