Londonist Rating: ★★★☆☆
It’s easy to see why this short, punchy opera by Italo Montemezzi first became popular a hundred or so years ago. And easy to see why it declined soon after and fell out of the collective repertoire. L'Amore Dei Tre Re is unusually direct, bordering on histrionic with nakedly emotional music that sounds at times like the score for a lost Hitchcock film.
The title translates as The Love of The Three Kings, which neatly sums up the story: three men whose passions swirl around one woman: Fiora, the princess of Altura (played by Natalya Romaniw). She's been forced to marry Manfredo (Simon Thorpe), the son of the blind king Archibaldo (Mikhail Svetlov) who has conquered Altura and now rules with an iron fist and a lofty lack of respect for the natives’ bruised machismo.
Fiora hedges her bets by going along with the marriage, but while Manfredo is away she secretly shacks up with her true love, the Alturan prince Avito (Joel Montero). The couple’s failure to be discrete — banging away under the twitching nose of the blind dictator — sets the stage for a bloodily inevitable showdown.
There’s not much more to the plot than that, which is both the opera’s main strength and weakness. It’s easy to follow, high on impact and pleasingly brisk (clocking in at a mere 90 minutes). But the story is so streamlined that it does feel lacking in detail; a few extra kinks or a slightly off-kilter subplot might have made it more satisfying overall.
Its limitations help explain why it met middling reviews in Milan when first staged in 1913 before becoming a temporary hit in New York in the 20s and 30s then withering away into relative obscurity.
Having said all that, this production at Holland Park is very strong, with richly anguished singing from all five leads, as well as Aled Hall as the king’s manservant. The singing from tenor Joel Montero and soprano Natalya Romaniw dovetails beautifully even though the physical manifestation of their romance seems a bit off at times; when he pins her atop the battlements, balancing on a broken staircase, the audience’s main concern is that he might fall off.
The music is powerful and exquisitely played by the City of London Sinfonia. And the Opera Holland Park Chorus add depth to the scenes of public insurgence and especially when they sing canticles off-stage in the echoing cloisters of Holland House. The set design is a little lacking — a concrete coloured castle with a lightning bolt shaped pathway around it, not quite evoking the Nazi era it aims for. This is a solid opera that will please throughout its duration but evaporate slightly once the gunsmoke of the climactic scene wafts away.
L'Amore Dei Tre Re runs at Opera Holland Park for four nights until 1 August. Tickets £17-£70. Londonist saw this show on a complimentary ticket.