WORKS: La dueña
PERFORMER: Richard Van Allan, Adrian Clarke, Susannah Glanville, Claire Powell, Neill Archer, Eric Roberts, Ann Taylor, Paul Wade, Stephen Briggs, Bruce Budd; Chorus of Opera North, English Northern Philharmonia/Antoni Ros Marbá
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9520(2)
The Duenna is Roberto Gerhard’s only opera and one of his most important works, though not his finest (that must be his extraordinary melodrama The Plague). It was never staged during his lifetime, and had it been, the composer would doubtless have made revisions. As the 1992 premiere in Spain and subsequent Opera North performances disclosed, The Duenna (composed 1945-7) is dramatically flawed, but that need not trouble the listener who encounters its scintillating music on disc.
The score reflects the composer’s cosmopolitan background – born in Catalonia of Alsatian-Swiss parentage, he studied with Schoenberg before fleeing Franco to settle in Cambridge – but paints a lively, unmistakably Spanish picture of Seville, where this comedy of errors is played out. The unsettling conclusion is brilliantly captured, but much of the Sheridan play on which the opera is based is both unfunny and politically incorrect, and Gerhard stumbles trying to accommodate its wordiness. Antoni Ros Marbá’s spirited conducting disguises many of the weaknesses, and the cast of Opera North’s most recent revival is excellent: Susannah Glanville a fresh-sounding Donna Luisa, Neill Archer a mellifluous Don Antonio, Ann Taylor alluring as Donna Clara, Richard Van Allan vivid as Don Jerome, and Claire Powell characterful as the crafty Duenna herself. John Allison