Un Giorno di Regno, Garsington: Verdi’s maligned comedy gets a dynamite makeover

Henry Waddington, Madison Leonard and Grant Doyle (standing) with Joshua Hopkins and Christine Rice in Un Giorno di Regno
Henry Waddington, Madison Leonard and Grant Doyle (standing) with Joshua Hopkins and Christine Rice in Un Giorno di Regno - Richard Hubert Smith

The words to the aria appear across the screen. A pointer bounces along the sentence as the groom sings of his desire to get married. Italian shifts to English; Verdi’s sentiment is writ large via lyrics from I Got You Babe and Islands in the Stream as the karaoke machine rumbles into action.

Garsington Opera’s new production of Un giorno di regno assembles a range of wedding tropes – surprise guests, dodgy speeches, misguided musical affection – and sets them alongside dynastical power struggles and an arms hustle. The combination of this witty staging and a superb cast, orchestra and chorus is dynamite.

If you’ve never heard of Un giorno di regno (“King for a day”), you’re not alone: Verdi’s much-maligned comic opera flopped when it opened at La Scala in 1840 and has remained a curiosity ever since. The composer was so disillusioned by its poor reception that – look away now, Edinburgh standups – it took a further 50-odd years for him to dabble in comedy again (on the better-known Falstaff). Part of the problem is a pedestrian plot; thwarted marriages are better served elsewhere in opera. But director Christopher Alden peppers his staging with contemporary references that balance farce and fantasy, enhancing the ChatGPT-style libretto.

Just on the right side of Carry On Kinging: Henry Waddington and Grant Doyle in Un Giorno di Regno at Garsington Opera
Just on the right side of Carry On Kinging: Henry Waddington and Grant Doyle in Un Giorno di Regno at Garsington Opera - Alastair Muir/amx

Central to Alden’s setting is that aforementioned screen. There are intermittent interruptions from the fictional Forte News, hints of dubious weapons deals and a rogue’s gallery of those who have taken political control through questionable means (Donald Trump and Boris Johnson flash up at times, as do Joseph Stalin and Richard Nixon). Successfully incorporating digital images is notoriously challenging in opera, an art form that already makes for a busy sensory experience.

This Goldilocks production got it just right. Following other, recent successes – such as Musik Theater an der Wien’s recent staging of Salieri’s 1788 opera buffa Kublai Khan, which, incidentally, also cast its house as a corporation, selling chocolate rather than weapons – Un giorno di regno made use of real-time projection. We see the King (Joshua Hopkins, resplendent in a hot-pink gown) caught at a “bad time”, licking his orb and sceptre. And it is through the screen that Fox News – sorry, Forte – finally reveals the impersonation.

Yet it is the traditional singing and acting that really elevates this production. As the Avril Lavigne-like Giulietta, Madison Leonard’s soprano has swagger; Henry Waddington and Grant Doyle gamely grab fistfuls of spaghetti from the wedding breakfast and smear themselves with tomato sauce during their tantalising duet. Happily, the chorus, dressed in black security outfits and supported by the Philharmonia Orchestra under conductor Chris Hopkins, keep things just on the right side of Carry On Kinging.


To July 22; garsingtonopera.org

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