Rian Evans 

Beatrice and Benedict – review

As the inebriate choirmaster Somarone, Donald Maxwell stood out, not always for the right reasons, writes Rian Evans
  
  

This year marks the 150th anniversary of Berlioz's last opera, in which he returned to his passion for Shakespeare. Yet, for all the artful reworking of Much Ado About Nothing, the work, sung here in English, invites a love-hate relationship, much in the manner of that of Beatrice and Benedict. There's plenty of Berlioz magic in the score, sometimes captured by conductor Michael Hofstetter; the stumbling block is the spoken dialogue, when the dynamic just sags, the playful wit and sparkle lost in transit. With more mumblers than good projectors in this Welsh National Opera cast, the disjunct was frustrating.

Elijah Moshinsky's production – new in 1994 and last revived 11 years ago – had been remembered with nostalgia, not least for looking ravishing: Michael Yeargan's single set is the terrace of a Sicilian villa, atmospherically lit, with a full moon against the blue night sky the most iconic image of the wholly romantic confection. This latest revival has kept its elegance and the rich colours their vibrancy; musically, however, it was disappointing, the singing unexceptional. As Beatrice, Sara Fulgoni occasionally showed her true mezzo mettle; Robin Tritschler's Benedict was under par following a cold, so not a match made in heaven. Laura Mitchell's Hero was prettily ineffectual, while Gary Griffiths's Claudio had the advantage of delivering his words with the clarity of an actor.

As the inebriate choirmaster Somarone, Donald Maxwell stood out, not always for the right reasons. Taking it upon himself to inject the comic into opéra-comique, Maxwell made Somarone – the role an addition of Berlioz's – a roistering turn. The meticulously prepared ad-libs got him the laughs, but quite so much ado doesn't sit comfortably with the rest of the opera, and not all the blame should lie with Berlioz.