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London Evening Standard  28. June 2000

 

Welcome to happy hour

 

L'amico Fritz, Holland Park    ***   (three stars - out of three -outstanding)

By Tom Sutcliffe

 

Mascagni's L'amico Fritz is an opera with a big smile, starting with the 40th birthday celebration of a confirmed bachelor and ending with a wedding in prospect. The deus ex machina is a friendly rabbi called David (the marvellously reassuring and affectionate Keith Latham) who works away throughout to spread a little happiness. Not much happens except for Fritz's dawning recognition of his moment of destiny. The music is delicious and the atmosphere, with lashings of gypsy violin from the leader of the impressive Royal Philharmonic Opera Orchestra, is spellbinding. It might have been cloying. But director Matthias Janser ensures it isn't, by bringing it right up to date and making us work our imaginations to visualise the local colour and activity in the music.The cherry trees are a small unfurled sheet of pink cloth, beside which Suzel (Louise Cannon with wonderfully unforced personality, and a very beautiful and exciting voice) climbs a ladder and wittily mimes cherry picking. Robin Rawstorne´s set is a freshly pink plastered bare wall. Janser and Rawstorne cleverly solve the biggest problem of Holland Park's stage. Usually its exits and entrances are so lengthy and tension destroying. Janser´s taste is precise, both in the look of the thing, the subtle playful direction of the cast and fluent, generous use of space. The orphans chorus sing from the back of the audience. The cast race up the auditorium steps. Sarah Castle's memorable Beppe climbs onto the stage from the orchestra. John Gibbons conducts with typical stylishness. Justin Lavender, with his thrillingly Italianate top notes, is ideal as Fritz. He has a dreamy, charming smile, too, without affectation.