Dir. Olivia Fuchs, Cond. James MacMillan, Theatre Royal, 22nd & 24th January
Inés de Castro is the archetype of gloomy operas. Children are killed because of their parentage, a skeleton is declared the lawful queen, the new king goes mad and Death herself appears on the stage. And these are the highlights.
The story of Inés De Castro originates in Portugal, adding elements of truth to this fictional opera. She was a Spanish noblewoman who conducted an affair with the Crown Prince of Portugal while their two countries were at war. Of course, due to the diplomatic ramifications of their affair, she was brutally murdered.
Yet, it is difficult to sympathise with this doomed Spanish Juliet. She repeatedly sings ‘What harm have I done?’ leaving the audience rolling their eyes. The opera attempts to create a saintly air about de Castro, with subtlety being thrown out the window when blood and bread is passed around in her honour during her rather late coronation. Yet, regardless of this Christ-like imagery, she remains decidedly human throughout the whole production. I could not help but reflect that had she even the most basic understanding of diplomacy she may have realised that she would not have been welcome in her love’s nation. To me she appeared the victim of her own misjudgement. The opera revolves around love and yet it is difficult to cheer on the lovers at the centre of this gloomy piece.
However, regardless of the characters, the story which the opera weaves is one that resonates with those who admire drama, and the cruel hand of fate. It is unflinching in its portrayal of a love which begets only madness, and how this twisted love manages to deform the personalities of those who play a part in it. Though this opera is based on a traditional tale, it succeeds in pouring so much venom into it that the tale seems virtually alive.
Inés de Castro is not an unforgettable opera, nor does its music reach grand heights. However, it is a human opera. And there is beauty in human fallibility.