After a sticky start, when little happens for far too long, this speculative story of the 18th century composer Domenico Zipoli springs to life, thanks to the engaging presence of its two singer-actors.
William Towers has the elegant, chiselled looks suggesting possibilities as both rake and ascetic.
They are two aspects of Zipoli – the flawed pearl of the title – which may account for his switch from harpsichordist in Italian court circles to death in his thirties as a Jesuit missionary in South America dedicated to the care of his native Indian flock and composing sacred music.
Towers’ ample and noble countertenor is strikingly used in the work’s finest scene as he sings extracts from Zipoli’s many vocal works which were discovered in a Bolivian monastery in 1971.
Eloise Irving looks ravishing as an Italian princess, Zipoli’s patroness and possibly unrequited love-object, and her vibrant lyric soprano suited Zipoli’s Kyrie delivered as a white-robed and disturbingly erotic Virgin Mary.
Excellent support came from musical director and pianist Mark Latimer supported by violinists Miles Golding and Julia Barker and cellist Sophie Gledhill.
The finale using Guarani Indian music was invigoratingly jolly but the clumsy ending (presumably to make a polemical point about the music’s legacy in contemporary South America) left the audience bemused.
Judicious trimming would make it an even more entertaining show.