For the Wexford Festival of 1956, Nicola Monti and Cristiano Dalamangas returned to appear in La cenerentola by Rossini, where they were joined by Italian baritone Paolo Pedani in the first of his five appearances at Wexford. British mezzo-soprano Barbara Howitt was playing the role of Angelina, with Patricia Kern and April Cantelo as her step-sisters.
|April Cantelo, Cristiano Dalamangas. Patricia Kern|
By now Monti and Dalamangas were regular visitors to Wexford, and in those early days it was not uncommon for the visiting artists to join in a "sing song" in the hotels or local bars as they unwound after their performances. It seems that Dalamangas was very fond of these get togethers, and he had also developed a liking for Guinness. It is rumoured that during one of the years he sang at Wexford, some members of the backstage crew had to go looking for him in various pubs, and just about managed to get him to the theatre, and into his costume in time for curtain up.
Martha by Flotow was the other opera staged that season, and it was performed in its original German. Together with Der Wildschutz from 1955 and the The Rose of Castile, these were the only non-Italian works performed at Wexford during the first decade. German opera would not feature again at Wexford until the 1970's. For Martha, the singers included German tenor Josef Traxel, a member of the Stuttgart opera and regular at Bayreuth, Constance Shacklock an English contralto and leading performer at Covent Garden, and baritone Marko Rothmueller made a return appearance.
|Constance Shacklock and Marko Rothmueller|
Shortly after her appearance at Wexford, Constance Shacklock left the operatic stage and she took on the role of the Mother Abbess in the London run of The Sound of Music. She sang the role for six years, and following that, she retired from performing to concentrate on teaching.
Two comic operas were on the bill for the seventh festival in 1957. On stage that year were La figlia del reggimento and L'italiana in Algeri by Donizetti and Rossini respectively. Bryan Balkwill conducted, while Peter Ebert directed and Joseph Carl designed both operas.
|Cast of La figlia del reggimento|
In 1840 Donizetti wrote La Fille du Regiment for the Opera-comique in Paris. In keeping with the tradition of that theatre, the musical numbers were separated by spoken dialogue. When the opera was transferred to Italy, the french text was translated into Italian this dialogue was replaced with sung recitatives, and it was this Italian version that was presented here in Wexford. The cast assembled for the pieces featured the young Graziella Sciutti as the eponymous heroine Maria. The tenor Mario Spina was her lover Tonio, and he had to tackle all those high C's in his big aria. The welsh baritone Geraint Evans was Sergeant Sulpice. Before her engagement for Wexford she had appeared at Covent Garden, Aix-en-Provence and the major theatres in Italy, where she was known as "the Callas of the Piccola Scala".
|Patricia Kern, Barbara Howitt, April Cantelo in L'Italiana in Algeri|
The three female roles in L'Italiana in Algeri were taken by the same trio that had starred in the previous year's La Cenerentola; Barbara Howitt, Patrica Kern and April Cantelo. Also returning from the previous year was Paolo Pedani. Romanian tenor Petre Munteanu, and Italian bass Paolo Montarsolo were Lindoro and Mustafa respectively.
While comedy was the theme of the operas for 1957, drama and tragedy followed in 1958, when Anna Bolena by Donizetti and I due Foscari by Verdi were the selected works. Verdi's early work, is a thrilling story of political intrigue, corruption and family tragedy set in 15th century Venice. The principal role is a demanding yet rewarding one for a baritone. Having excelled in comic roles in the two preceding festivals, Paolo Pedani proved to be well able to reach the vocal and dramatic heights required in the role of the octogenarian Doge, being especially moving in the opera's final scene, where, having heard the bells of St Marks ring to announce the election of his successor, he dies. Spanish tenor Carlo del Monte, and Italian soprano Mariella Angioletti starred in the other leading roles.
|Marina Cucchio, Plinio Clabassi, Fiorenza Cossotto in Anna Bolena|
Anna Bolena was the fourth work of Donizetti to be performed at Wexford, and was the first of his serious operas to be staged. At that time, what we now refer to as the "bel canto revival" was only starting to take place. The comedies of Donizetti were occasionally staged in the British Isles, so this production of Anna Bolena was quite a bold decision. Casting for the piece was top notch as usual. In the title role was the Italian soprano Marina Cucchio, King Henry was sung by bass Plinio Clabassi, who had appeared in this role at La Scala the previous season with Maria Callas and Leyla Gencer as Anna. Tenor Gianni Jaia was Percy. However, the singer who created the biggest impression was the young Italian mezzo-soprano singing Jane Seymour, and that was Fiorenza Cossotto. The critic from The London Times was lavish in his praise of Ms Cossotto, saying she was mezzo-soprano at the beginning of great career. And of course he was correct. Some years ago, when asked which singer did he think was his greatest discovery, without hesitation, Dr. Tom replied Fiorenza Cossotto. The background to her engagement for Wexford is quite amusing, and I think we should know the story.
Early in 1958 while in Milan casting for the festival, Dr.Tom attended a performance of Madama Butterfly at La Scala. He was very impressed by the Suzuki in that performance, and it was Cossotto. After the performance he went to dinner at Biffi's restaurant which was close by and usually frequented by Milan's opera people. There he met a London based agent, a man whom Dr. Tom neither liked not trusted. This agent claimed to represent Cossotto, and a lunch appointment, at Biffi's, for all three was set for the next day. Cossotto didn't turn up and some excuses were made. The appointment was re-scheduled for the next day; again no Cossotto. But on that day, Liduino Bonardi the head of the top international agent in Milan, ALCI, arrived for lunch. At the time, Liduino, as he was generally known, ruled the operatic world from La Scala in Milan, to The Metropolitan Opera in New York. In fact, Rudolf Bing the General Manager of the MET during these years, referred to Liduino as "an amiable old bandit". On seeing the London agent, a shouting match broke out, with Liduino accusing the other man of trying to poach his singers. Dr.Tom, and the rest of the diners looked on horrified as the two men clutched at each others jackets. After Liduino had left, Dr.Tom threatened the London agent with legal action for misrepresentation. He also insisted that he must clarify with Liduino, that he had no part in this matter. They left the restaurant and crossed to the ALCI offices which were nearby. The London agent asked Dr.Tom to wait while he spoke to Liduino. He emerged rather flustered after 15 minutes, and told Dr.Tom that Liduino would see him. Dr.Tom found Liduino seated behind his desk. Liduino motioned to Dr.Tom to take a seat. Just then, he removed a mauve plastic backed hair brush from his desk, and as he sat there combing back his long white hair, Fiorenza Cossotto was contracted to Wexford.
|Mariella Angioletti and Nicola Nicolov|
Almost every lover of opera and classical music will be familiar with the name of Rossini's opera semiseria, La gazza ladra, due to the huge popularity of it's overture. The opera itself was very rarely performed, and when it was, it was usually heavily abridged, as indeed it was in Wexford. Nicola Monti and Paolo Pedani returned yet again to appear in it. Joining them were husband and wife, bass Giorgio Tadeo and soprano Mariella Adani, who were important singers in Italy, and both had featured on recordings. John Pritchard was the conductor. Also joining the cast in the trousers role of the young farm boy Pippo, was Janet Baker, who went on to become one of England's best known and best loved singers. The role of Pippo is quite small, but it is he who discovers that it is in fact a magpie who has stolen some silver spoons, and not Ninetta who has been condemned to death for the crime. Pippo raises the alarm just in the nick of time, Ninetta is cleared, and all ends happily.
|A scene from La gazza ladra|