One could be forgiven for thinking that the sincere, unabashedly romantic reaches of musical theatre had calcified under the cargo of commercial confection were it not for a bona fide antidote that has recently berthed south of the river, for a strictly limited engagement. After fifteen-years, The Light in the Piazza has its long-awaited London premiere, and the sun-kissed Southbank Centre swelters and sprawls in the satisfying shine of its latest import.
“A taught, operatic tapestry of 1950s Florence that deftly collides art song with Broadway”
Since its Lincoln Center production in 2005, Piazza has been preserved through its cast recording and PBS broadcast, but it is this new, concert-staged production, featuring the 40-strong Orchestra of Opera North (conducted by Kimberly Grigsby) that pedestals Adam Guettel’s scintillating – and it is scintillating – score to a mythic, monolithic stature. Guettel’s music weaves thematic threads, both smooth and rough, cheek by jowl, to fashion a taught, operatic tapestry of 1950s Florence that deftly collides art song with Broadway, or, as overheard by a nearby audience member “tones and semitones, all over the place”.
Craig Lucas’ adaptation, which also adds form and flesh to these literary characters, must also be commended. Based on Elizabeth Spencer’s novel of the same name, The Light in the Piazza pivots around a mother-daughter pair, Margaret and Clara Johnson (played by Renée Fleming and Dove Cameron, respectively), who are vacationing in Florence, Italy, a city of particular poignancy for Margaret, who last visited during her honeymoon. Clara’s serendipitous involvement with the Naccarellis’ son, Fabrizio (played by the charismatic Rob Houchen) unearths familial secrets, and calls to question whether love can prevail amidst human cynicism.
This cherry-picked cast is something of a coup de théâtre; where else would one see Dove Cameron, Rob Houchen, Alex Jennings and Renée Fleming breathe the same air? In spite of this, it is Renée who steers the ship effortlessly with an unbridled command of her devastating portrayal of Margaret. Her voice soars in “Fable”, an at-times-cynical examination of love, and is unfaltering even in quieter moments such as “Let’s Walk”.
Directed by the ever-versatile Daniel Evans, don’t hesitate to see this dazzling production before it disappears in a flash to somewhere sunnier (read: 5th July; hurry!)