As operatic incarcerations go, being confined to a giant wedding cake isn’t so bad. This is the fate of the heroine in Rossini’s Adina, or at least in Rosetta Cucchi’s tasty production, where the title character is imprisoned in the second tier of a Victoria Sponge harem ahead of her wedding to the Caliph. Konstanze in Mozart’s Seraglio never had it so good.

<i>Adina</i> © Clive Barda
Adina
© Clive Barda

Cucchi’s production comes from the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro, the composer’s home town, but in Wexford (where she takes over as Artistic Director next year) she appends Adina with a new commission. La cucina (The Kitchen) is a brief operatic starter to the Rossinian main course by Irish composer Andrew Synott. It acts as a prequel to Cucchi’s production (rather than to Rossini’s opera) in that it concerns the trials and tribulations behind the baking of the wedding cake.

Sheldon Baxter (Zeno), Manuel Amati (Tobia), Máire Flavin (Bianca) and Emmanuel Franco (Camillo) © Clive Barda
Sheldon Baxter (Zeno), Manuel Amati (Tobia), Máire Flavin (Bianca) and Emmanuel Franco (Camillo)
© Clive Barda

Bianca, assistant to the famous chef Alberto, is teaching a novice chef the ropes. The perfectionist Alberto, however, does not speak, following his humiliation at La Scala when his cake collapsed. Eggs are broken, flour is spilt, chaos reigns. Imagine The Great British Bake-Off set to music with Paul Hollywood as the silent maestro and you get the picture. Set to Cucchi’s own libretto (in Italian), Synott’s piece is witty, tonal and sympathetically written for voices. The final ensemble is even based on words by Rossini, himself a great gourmet: “Eating, loving, singing and digesting are, in truth, the four acts of the comic opera known as life.” The performance whipped along wittily, led by Máire Flavin’s sparky Bianca, although her soprano tended to spread at the top, and Emmanuel Franco’s accident-prone novice chef, a neat curtain-raiser to the main dish.

Composed in 1818. Adina is the Cinderella of Rossini’s operas, a very rarely performed one-act farce. Commissioned from Portugal, the work wasn’t premiered until 1826, at Lisbon’s Teatro São Carlos. Although set in Baghdad, there is none of the exotic colour Rossini had employed in L’italiana in Algeri. Indeed, four of the ten numbers were recycled from his opera Sigismondo. Rossini never heard it performed.

Manuel Amati (Ali) and Daniele Antonangeli (Caliph) © Clive Barda
Manuel Amati (Ali) and Daniele Antonangeli (Caliph)
© Clive Barda

Briefly, the plot centres around the Caliph’s impending wedding to Adina, whom he loves because she reminds him of Zora, an old flame from decades ago. Adina has reluctantly accepted the proposition because she believes her lover, Selimo, is dead. Selimo is far from dead, of course, and pitches up to rescue her. Farce follows, ending in the discovery that Adina reminds the Caliph of Zora because she is, in fact, their daughter. A quick switch of personnel and the opera ends with Adina and Selimo united in marriage.

Rachel Kelly (Adina) © Clive Barda
Rachel Kelly (Adina)
© Clive Barda

Tiziano Santi’s mouthwatering set is scrumptious. The bottom tier of the cake acts as the Caliph’s hammam – we see him having a scrub – whilst the top tier is used as a prison for Selimo when he is caught red-handed in a clinch with Adina. Luca Nucera (Alberto in La cucina) stalks the scene, silently directing the finishing touches to his confection.

More than any other composer, Rossini requires specialist singers capable of vaulting his testing vocal demands. Cucchi has cast this very well indeed. Rachel Kelly’s coloratura dazzled, spinning notes up into soprano territory, with a top C sharp flung in (Lisette Oropesa took the role in Pesaro). Capped by a perfect trill and feisty stage presence, her Adina was more than a match for her male colleagues.

Rachel Kelly (Adina) and Daniele Antonangeli (Caliph) © Clive Barda
Rachel Kelly (Adina) and Daniele Antonangeli (Caliph)
© Clive Barda

Daniele Antonangeli’s nimble bass – never too glutinous – was a great fit for the Caliph, while this was the best I’ve heard young South African tenor Levy Sekgapane. As Selimo, he rattled off the coloratura cleanly and hit the stratospheric top notes which are essential weapons in every Rossini tenor’s armoury. Emmanuel Franco and Manuel Amati sang effectively in the minor roles and the Chorus had a romp as cooks, a marching band and hitmen “heavies”.

In the pit, conductor Michele Spotti mixed Rossini’s ingredients expertly, the Wexford woodwinds adding plenty of spice. Although it’s far from the Swan of Pesaro’s best score, Adina contributes to an entertaining double bill.

****1