The most lyrical and romantic thing about The Light in the Piazza is its title. That, and the luscious vintage-style 50s costumes. They evoke the American idyll of Italy — as captured by Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday — and will have you thumbing through brochures trying to decide between Portofino and Positano for your next break
The score — by Adam Guettel, grandson of Richard Rodgers-not-Hammerstein — is deliberately lush too. However it’s in a pining-to-be-opera way, not in the usual musical theatre manner that moves the plot along and gives you something to hum on the bus.
It takes thirty members of the excellent Opera North orchestra sawing away at the strings for an hour before we learn the dubious story. American Margaret Johnson travels with a daughter who was kicked in the head by a pony as a child and now has ‘developmental issues’, so she tries to palm her off on a lovestruck Italian swain with a $15,000 sweetener. Given it’s about 1955, that’s three quarters of a million at today’s prices.
It’s meant to be a tussle between loving your child and wanting her to have a better life, but from a contemporary standpoint it feels sleazy.
However, American opera star Renee Fleming is an icon, and delivers with honours. As the daughter, Dove Cameron comes with a Disney pedigree and 20 million Instagram followers who might be upset if we said she’s as irritatingly perky as Amanda Seyfried in the first Mamma Mia, even if she can hit some unfeasibly high notes.
As the love interest, Rob Houchen is an almost edible Florentine, his superb tenor gracing the awkward melodies, and giving conviction even to the lyrics written in GCSE Italian. There’s also a firecracker performance by Celinde Schoenmaker as his sarcastic sister in law, the only character not blinded by romance.
Lovely to look at. Just a bit pretentious in the music department.
The Light in the Piazza, Royal Festival Hall, Upper Ground, SE1, £20-150.Until July 5
Last Updated 19 June 2019