Julia Bright watches the delightful L’amico Fritz by Pietro Mascagni at the Holland Park Opera, one of this season’s four productions.

L’amico Fritz is a far cry from Cavalleria Rusticana, the hot blood and guts story set in the Sicilian sunshine for which Pietro Mascagni is rightly more famous. This gentle, rural romance, allows the music to dominate as Mascagni intended, rather than the fairly inconsequential story.

L’amico Fritz Plot

Rich landowner and generous bachelor Fritz Kobus refuses to contemplate marriage. His dear friend, David, a rabbi, believes he will one day find a bride upon which Fritz wagers his vineyard that he will never get married. Fate intervenes.

Katie Bird as Suzel and Paul Carey Jones as David in L’amico Fritz at Opera Holland Park, 2021 © Ali Wright
Katie Bird as Suzel and Paul Carey Jones as David in L’amico Fritz at Opera Holland Park, 2021 © Ali Wright

Before long with little action apart from cherry-picking activities in his orchard (depicted by six stark white stepladders) he has fallen in love with his tenant farmer’s young daughter Suzel who, modest and shy, has already been smitten. That’s it. They’re on their way, celebrations all round – and the rabbi gifts the vineyard he has won to Suzel as a wedding present.

An Excellent Production

All very sweet but hardly a compelling plot. However, the spare but inventive production by director Julie Burbach works well and there is some fine singing. Paul Carey Jones was delightful as the spritely David, Matteo Lippi’s soaring sonorous tenor was a joy and our heroine, Suzel, chief cherry-plucker of course, was amply served by the rich, melodious soprano of Katie Bird. The famous “cherry pickers” duet sung by the two impassioned lovers in Act 3 was sublime.

One of Burbach’s touches was recreating Fritz’s bohemian violin-playing friend Beppe as a Cupid figure, silently flapping feather wings, which had grown weirdly long by the second act (what was the psychology there I wondered), and guiding or even occasionally thwarting the action. Beppe’s beautiful violin solo was impeccably played by lead violinist, Martin Burgess in the orchestra. Striking young Italian conductor, Beatrice Venezi, with her long swinging blonde hair and bright pink dress, brought the small City of London Sinfonia orchestra to life, expressing all the various nuances with deftness and verve.

Mike Bradley as Federico and Themba Mvula as Hanezò in L’amico Fritz at Opera Holland Park, 2021 © Ali Wright
Mike Bradley as Federico and Themba Mvula as Hanezò in L’amico Fritz at Opera Holland Park, 2021 © Ali Wright

The stage setting was excellent – a café-society on one level incorporating the small choir which also sang effectively off-stage – built as an oval hoop with the orchestra in the “doughnut” hole. I’ve seldom seen key scenes sung with the conductor behind, rather than in front. But no problem for Lippi and Bird, always bang on cue.

Holland Park Opera has carried out a lot of work to enable opening at all in Covid-times, including using 400 chairs lent to them by West End theatres.


L’amico Fritz

New production by Opera Holland Park, with the City of London Sinfonia and the Opera Holland Park Chorus. Sung in Italian with English Subtitles.

L’amico Fritz continues until 30 July. For more details of all performances at the Holland Park Opera, click here. Main image: Kezia Bienek as Beppe in L’amico Fritz at Opera Holland Park, 2021 © Ali Wright.