But for the eye-catching performance in the title role by the soprano Anne Sophie Duprels, an OHP favourite whose supple movements underline the character's youth, and an unrelentingly villainous turn as her seducer, Osaka, by Noah Stewart, this seedy story would be intolerable. But there is some fine singing, and if there is a wildness and roughness in Stewart's voice, it suits the vile character he portrays.
Opera Holland Park's wide, shallow, stage is imaginatively handled by designer Soutra Gillmour, who places three wooden frames at intervals; these become by turn the stage for a puppet show with which the young girl, Iris, is entrapped, her own bedroom, the scene of her seduction, the room of her blind but selfish father (powerfully sung by Mikhail Svetlov), prison-like cages and the walls of a sewer.
The granddaughter and great-granddaughters of the composer were in the first-night audience, and it is hard to imagine that they would give their blessing to the performance of a work that they found completely distasteful to women. And so the puzzle must be solved as to why, where Butterfly is enraging and heartbreaking, Iris is predominantly replellant.
The answer, as always with opera, lies in the score: so often when the onstage action is appalling, the music veers between the merely nebulous and the oddly lush and colourful. The City of London Sinfonia under Stuart Stratford bestrides the occasional Japanese instrumentation and Mascagni's nods at oriental tonality, and the excellent chorus opens the opera with the best number in the piece, an anthem reminiscent of the much-loved Easter Hymn in Mascagni's earlier and better-known opera Cavalleria Rusticana. In Iris, the music and the action are telling different stories.
Iris is a collector's item, and a trophy for those who like to notch up 19th-century Italian curious. That it, rather than the more mainstream operas that follow in June, July and August, opens OHP's impressive season is tribute to this company's independent thinking. Whether it is worth staging is a matter of personal taste, but it could hardly be better done.
|Iris review , Opera Holland Park
|Opera Holland Park, Stable Yard, Holland Park, London , W8 6LU | MAP
|High Street Kensington (underground)
07 Jun 16 – 18 Jun 16, 7:30 PM – 12:00 AM