The Scottish Mail on Sunday

L’Amico Fritz

- David Mellor

Pietro Mascagni is one of the nearly men of Italian opera. Swept to overnight fame at the tender age of 26 by the spectacula­r success of Cavalleria Rusticana, he spent the rest of his long life (he died at 81) trying either to counter Cav with an even greater ‘lust in the dust’ epic, or supplant it with an acknowledg­ed masterpiec­e from another part of the operatic forest.

He succeeded in neither, ending up in the 1930s throwing in his lot with Mussolini, and dying in relative obscurity in a run-down Roman hotel near the Pantheon. A plaque outside pays tribute to a composer who, in his own words, was crowned before he was king.

But Mascagni did write other good stuff such as L’Amico Fritz, his next offering after Cav.

Opera Holland Park’s mastermind James Clutton loves the piece. This is his third, and best shot at illuminati­ng a sensitivel­y drawn masterpiec­e that, when properly done, provides a delightful evening, as it does here.

Mascagni thought Cav was deemed a success because of its plot, not his brilliant note spinning.

So he decided his next piece would be one where nothing happened, and certainly no one died. And in L’Amico Fritz, a delicate tale of a wealthy bachelor, Fritz, who falls for an innocent teenager, Suzel, he succeeds.

The relationsh­ip is mastermind­ed by a rabbi, David, a sensitivel­y drawn role that makes Mascagni’s subsequent descent into fascism all the more tragic.

Matteo Lippi, OHP’s favourite Italian lyric tenor, is a superb Fritz. Young Katie Bird is most persuasive as innocent little Suzel. Paul Carey Jones is a strongly voiced rabbi, and Victoria Simmonds, from the pit, is a first-class voice for the indisposed Kezia Bienek’s Beppe, a trouser role that she continues to act out on stage (above).

Beppe is a violinist, and his solos are charmingly taken by Charlotte Reid.

The pastoral idyll painted by Mascagni in the orchestra, and beautifull­y played here, made a sunny evening especially joyous, particular­ly with lashings of prosecco. The conductor Beatrice Venezi, in an auspicious British debut, will surely get plenty more gigs over here.

James Clutton is a long-term promoter of female talent. This season, of his five conductors, three are women, and he has also got an exact balance between men and women on the creative side.

Well done him.

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