This review of Donizetti’s opera about the West Indies by Gary Naylor appeared in Broadway World.
Driven mad by his wife’s infidelity (with his brother, Fernando), Cardenio has fetched up in the Caribbean colony of San Domingo on the island of Hispaniola, a place where madness is never far away. In the heat, he rants and raves, beating the slaves that come near him, but gains the sympathy of the plantation manager’s daughter Marcella, who can see through the madness to the torment that drives him. When his now-penitent wife is washed ashore by a storm, she proves determined to make amends. Fernando too arrives, with a letter from their mother, equally keen on a reconcilliation. So brews a potent mix in the sun and on the sand
English Touring Opera’s – The Wild Man of the West Indies (currently on tour) revives one of Donizetti’s less performed works, though it’s hard to see why that’s the case. Okay, there’s a bit of repetition in the story – but it is opera, so that’s to be expected. The slaves’ characters remain significantly less developed than the Europeans, but they are not ignored and provide a healthy dose of reality amidst the torrents of emotion pouring forth elsewhere – so it’s not too offensive to 21st century sensibilities. The tunes are good too, with some fine arias to give the singers plenty of opportunities to show off their vocal chops.
Sally Silver may be tearful for all but the denouement, but her voice dips and flies like a gull on a sea breeze as she brings all Eleonora’s regret for her foolishness to the island. As Fernando, Nicholas Sharratt’s tenor is piercingly clear as he hovers between committing fully to his role as saviour of his brother and giving the whole lot up as a bad job. Though Craig Smith does not have their power, he sings well and gets excellent support from Njabulo Madlala, Donna Bateman and Peter Brathwaite, whose comic timing as Kaidama provides welcome relief from the tension!
Sung in Italian with surtitles that can disappear infuriatingly, this production may not be as accessible as some drawn from the classic canon of Italian Opera, but it is still a lovely piece, consistently engaging, and sung and played with verve and no little style. The effect of that singing, with strings, brass, woodwind and percussion are live just a few yards away, is as thrilling as ever.