Packed full with stunning music

By: Feb. 22, 2024
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Review: THE DUCHESS OF PADUA, The Space A fascinating take on an almost forgotten and rarely performed play, Edward Lambert’s Duchess of Padua is packed full with stunning music that brings Oscar Wilde’s early epic of love and revenge to life.

It was Wilde’s second play and, like the earlier Vera, was poorly received. But while the plot often falls into melodrama and the characters have more of a sense of caricature about them, Padua already contains much of Wilde’s social criticism and sprinklings of his wit - although these often seem slapped on among what is otherwise a comparatively traditional revenge tragedy with a twist. 

Count Moranzone (Henry Grant Kerswell) tells recently arrived Guido Ferranti (Anna Elizabeth Cooper) that his father was betrayed by the Duke of Padua (James Beddoe) and that he needs to exact his revenge by befriending and killing the Duke. Things get complex when Guido meets the beautiful Duchess Beatrice (Ellie Neate), herself oppressed by her cruel husband, and they fall in love. 

Lambert’s music is spot on, fusing a traditionally dynamic Bel Canto score without feeling the least bit dated. It is always dramatic and flows seamlessly from dark and brooding moments focused on revenge, to quicker paced transitional scenes, and glimpses of stunning beauty in the love-focused duets and arias. It’s a tight score that never drops the excitement, with the accompaniment being performed by Alex Norton and Adrian Salinero on the piano. Lambert himself acts as musical director.

Director Fleur Snow’s production is fairly simple, with just a few basic props and a stage design by Melissa Sofoian. A projection of still images and the odd video in the background adds some additional ambience to the general appearance, as does Jonny Danciger’s lighting.

Among the cast, Neate’s soprano is particularly thrilling. Reaching soaring heights in a remarkably crystal-clear voice, hers is by far the most interesting character in that she is ultimately the one to take action and regret the murder towards the end in what is the closest that this play comes to displaying proper character development. 

Her rapport with  Cooper’s mezzo-soprano is delightful. Cooper has a strong voice in a part that is intense and complex to pull off, but she masters it gracefully and with great care, especially impressive considering the sheer banality of the character: wide-eyed and naive, Guido is hardly a Hamlet, though fitting for a melodrama.

Kerswell’s bass, however, does take on elements of Hamlet’s father. Tall, imposing and with a powerful booming voice, he frequently appears as a reminder to Guido to live up to his oath to kill the Duke. But while Kerswell feels intimidating throughout, his character seems to have a blunted purpose towards the end.

Beddoe’s tenor is wonderfully slimy and sneaky. The Duke is comically villainous, almost to the point of being laughable, but he also has some of the best lines (as silly as they are). Beddoe sings admirably in this style and is thoroughly convincing as a result, navigating the vocal-heavy music well.
Lambert’s Duchess of Padua is an interesting beast: the melodrama is so over-the-top and the characters are so unlikely that it’s difficult to take it seriously. But Lambert’s gothic-inspired music fits so well, and the performers do such a strong job, that it is difficult not to enjoy it - even if the plot necessarily needs to be taken with a large dose of irony.

The Duchess of Padua is at The Space until 25 February 2024. 

Photo Credit: Claire Shovelton