Hilarious Italian opera Rita opens this week at the Charing Cross Theatre: Stephen Vowles talks to director Alejandro Bonatto

Rita composed by Gaetano Donizetti, with libretto by Gustave Vaëz, is a funny domestic comedy which has delighted audiences since its premiere. Never performed in Donizetti’s lifetime, Rita premiered posthumously at the Opéra Comique in Paris on 7th May 1860, 12 years after his death. Charing Cross Theatre’s new production, starring Laura Lolita Perešivana as Rita (top), is in a new English-language translation with new orchestration for chamber ensemble by Alejandro Bonatto, who will also direct the production. Stephen Vowles chatted to Bonatto about this hilarious Italian opera.

How did Rita come into being? 

Rita came into being in an unplanned way. It was not a commission, as most works of such size were and are still today, but instead it was the result of a chance encounter between Vaëz and Donizetti. Donizetti was in Paris, waiting for a commission or having meetings about a commission. One afternoon he was having a walk and bumped into Vaëz, who he knew very well already.

The two friends stopped for a friendly chat and Donizetti mentioned he was really bored waiting for his Parisian issues to be sorted and had not planned to stay in Paris that long. So Vaëz proposed that they work on something new, a small comedy, while he was in Paris to occupy the time. And so work on Rita began. According to a letter Donizetti wrote, it seems that the two finished most of the work within a month.

Is the opera based on pure fiction or is there an element of truth to it?

Both! As is the case with Cosi Fan Tutte, Rita’s plot has always been thought to have an element of truth, like an urban myth. There is no official record of actual events, but it was a story that circulated around Italy and was considered true.

Please tell Boyz readers about the cast?

We have an amazing cast. Rita is played by Laura Lolita Perešivana, who is probably the next opera star. She has just finished her training and is starting to sing in most opera festivals and opera houses, but this is a great opportunity to see her in her full potential since the part has all the Bel canto elements. 

Brenton Spiteri

Brenton Spiteri is another young super-talented singer. The role of Beppe is hard to cast, due to its vocal requirements. We are very lucky to have him.

Phil Wilcox

Phil Wilcox, the baritone, plays Gasparo, the bad guy. Phil has a beautiful, sweet and deep voice, amazing acting skills and a particular talent for comedy. It is a joy to have him.

Are you excited to be directing a production that will now be seen by a live audience post-pandemic?

I think it was great that during the pandemic the performing arts found a way to keep going somehow. But I believe that theatre happens when performers and audience meet, share and go through the event in real time in the same space. I am extremely happy to be a part of the team that is bringing Rita to life.

Do you think the art form of opera has become more accessible to a larger and wider audience in recent years?

I think the biggest challenge for opera as an art form is for it to maintain financial sustainability. It is as alive today as it has been since its beginning at the end of the Renaissance, but the financial challenges of producing opera make it difficult for it to achieve its full potential. The fact that new, smaller opera companies are working hard to find ways around this is a welcome thing.


All tickets for Rita just £20 using the BOYZ25 promo code at the Charing Cross Theatre box office here.

Rita is at the Charing Cross Theatre, The Arches, Villiers Street, London WC2N 6NL from 7th to 20th August. Box office: https://charingcrosstheatre.co.uk/theatre/rita

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