Hungarian composer Peter Eötvös has plenty of operatic experience having produced versions of Angels in America and Chekov’s Three Sisters. His 2008 setting of a short story by Gabriel Garcia Márquez, then, might seem to promise more, but despite this excellent Glyndebourne cast recording giving it every opportunity to land, it remains peculiarly elusive and, for all it’s South American colour,
a slightly drab affair.

The story concerns the increasingly obsessive love of a priest for a 12-year-old girl suspected of contracting rabies after being bitten by a dog. Oddly, her age appears not to be an issue here, and sung by the capable Allison Bell, she simply comes across as a young woman – albeit one given to a good old scream now and again. There’s a greater tension between the world of the local ‘natives’, accused by the Catholic hierarchy of superstition, and the harsh attempts by the Bishop and Abbess to exorcise Sierva’s ‘demon’. Perhaps the problem is that the short story is just that – short. The characters lack background and relationships are sketchy. The libretto is skillfully adapted, but too often the score seems to drift along when it should seize the dramatic possibilities.

Many of the cast manage to distinguish themselves regardless and there are standout performances from Felicity Palmer as the Abbess, Nathan Gunn as the priest and Jean Rigby as a madwoman. A curate’s egg. CP