Opera is often taken far too seriously but it can be fun and it can be funny as is demonstrated by Opera Zuid’s current double-bill, Rossini’s La Scala di Seta and Il Signor Bruschino.

First impressions were of the magnificent decor. The all-white showroom-shiny marble kitchen designed by Agnes Hasun was very Dutch modern putting one in mind of Rotterdam’s Cube Houses or those ubiquitous tall buildings with overhangs – although Rossini set the piece in Paris. There were lots of doors and hiding places, a prerequisite for any farsa comica.

As the overture to La Scala di Seta plays the chef arrives and starts preparing a meal as one by one we meet the characters. The story is one of frustrated lovers, they are secretly married but her, Giulia’s, guardian has plans for her to marry someone else. Giulia and hubby Dorvil are forced to meet in secret every night with him arriving and leaving by the silk ladder. In this production he shins up and down a red silk sheet which is dangled out of the window. Of course, there is lots of subterfuge, people entering one door and leaving just in time through another. At one point poor Dorvil is forced to hide in the fridge but this does not seem to unduly cool his ardour. On another occasion he hides in a cupboard, forced to watch the amorous advances of Giulia’s proposed husband. All good stuff and nicely done and I guess in farce anything goes but the representing one of the characters as a schoolboy, like a refugee from AC/DC left me a bit baffled.

Of course, love conquers all and the myriad complicated situations are happily resolved as il cuoco presents his gourmet dinner which unfortunately seems to have got a little burnt in all the excitement.

When the curtain rose for the evening’s second offering, Il Signor Bruschino, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who had an overpowering sense of déjà vu. We were in the same kitchen with the same chef chopping the same celery and with the same singers, albeit wearing different costumes. And the story-line was very similar too. Again the heroine, in this case Sofia, is being forced into an arranged marriage while her true lover, Florvill, schemes to impose himself by impersonating the proposed ne’er do well bridegroom, Mr. Bruschino fils, who has conveniently been arrested for not paying his hotel bill. The spanner in the works is Mr. Bruschino père who, although for some unexplained reason doesn’t know his son, refuses to accept young Florvill. A suitably complex plot keeps the laughs coming and necessitates more head-scratching. As with La Scala di Seta things sort themselves out and everyone lives happily ever after.

There were some fine performances. The two ladies, Chelsea Bonagura as Sofia/Lucilla and Alexia Macbeth as Giulia/Marianna were both excellent but for me the best performance came from Edwin Fardini as Bruschino père. Roderik Povel uttered not one word but was never off-stage as the silent chef, bravely trying to prepare meals surrounded by chaos. The Philzuid orchestra under the baton of Sander Teepen provided spirited accompaniment.

This was an excellent production beautifully designed and cleverly directed by Marcos Darbyshire with some good singing and acting. However, I wasn’t totally convinced by the wisdom of this buy-one-get-one-free production, they were really too similar. It wasn’t quite Groundhog Day but I think in this case the whole made up less than its constituent parts. Alone, each would have been outstanding but by being presented as an exercise in compare and contrast, Il Signor Bruschino certainly lost some of its impact. Nevertheless, a very entertaining evening, lots of fun and well worth seeing.  Michael Hasted 22nd May 2024

 Photo by Joost Milde

Opera Zuid’s tour of La Scala di Seta and Il Signor Bruschino continues until 20th June