Naples, 11th May, 1834. A wave of gossip is careering through the city, widening eyes and animating tongues, and for a fortnight, the craze possesses the chattering classes. The reason? Donizetti’s opera Il furioso all’isola di San Domingo (The Madman of the Island of San Domingo), or, as the English Touring Opera is bringing it to Norwich Theatre Royal on Wednesday 25th March, The Wild Man of the West Indies.
After its premiere in 1833, and the 1834 madness in Naples, when it opened in three theatres on the same night, the opera remained popular until 1836, when it fell into obscurity, aside from the odd performance late in the twentieth century. The ETO in its press release excitedly points out that ‘it has never been performed in the UK before’.
But what’s it about? The plot is based on an episode in Cervantes’ classic Don Quixote in which a man, Cardenio, is driven mad when he learns of his wife Eleonora’s infidelity. Fleeing to a remote Caribbean island, he is stricken with grief and loses his mind. General Director James Conway describes the protagonist as ‘a character of Shakespearean depth’, and says that the opera as a whole is ‘both serious and comic – think Mozart’s Don Giovanni. It’s really great music, and a piece that nobody will get the chance to see in Norwich again’. So, a sort of The Tempest crossed with King Lear – with jokes.
The opera will be sung in Italian (the press release reads ‘bel canto or ‘beautiful singing’ style, characterised by an elegant, highly melodic and refined sound’) with English subtitles, and the performers will be in full costume, accompanied by ETO’s twenty-five-piece orchestra. This new production is directed by Iqbal Khan, whose previous work includes performances by the National Theatre, as well as the Royal Shakespeare Company, whose Othello later this year will also be directed by him.
As for the ETO, it began in 1979 as ‘Opera 80’, taking fully-staged opera and a full orchestra to more venues around the UK ‘than any company since before the Second World War’. In 1992 it took its present name, and now visits more than twenty theatres per year. Luckily for us, our nearest is Norwich Theatre Royal, a great venue, according to the ETO.
I can advance the same opinion from personal experience, and I look forward with curiosity to seeing what The Wild Man of the West Indies will be like. Also, as someone relatively new to opera, it will be a novel experience for me, and one which I’d encourage, especially if it’s to see such a rare production. To recap, it’s on Wednesday 25 March at 7:30pm, tickets range from £6.50 to £35, with discounts for Friends, Corporate Club, Saver Schemes and Groups, and information about booking and other details can be found on the Norwich Theatre Royal website.
Shall we go wild?