Ancient Greeks and Incas at Buxton 2018

Buxton Festival, or Buxton International Festival as it was re-christened last year, opens its doors for the 39th time this year with some 120 events over a 17-day period between the 6th and 22nd of July.

Other than Donizetti’s The Daughter of the Regiment transplanted into the world of Californian biker gangs, most interest operatically will centre on a rare staging of Verdi’s Alzira.

It was the composer’s eighth opera in 1845 and completes a festival trilogy of early Verdi operas over the last three years directed by the distinguished stage director Elijah Moshinsky under the musical direction of festival artistic director Stephen Barlow.

The three all but followed each other in Verdi’s output, Giovanna d’Arco (2016) coming immediately before Alzira, while last year’s offering, the original version of Macbeth, is separated from them by Attila – Verdi put him on the operatic stage, were you not aware!

Actually, it is easily the most frequently encountered of the four operas in question and a toss up as to the least frequent, Alzira or the original Macbeth, the latter probably having the dubious honour, despite its superior qualities over the usually heard later version.

Be all that as it may, Alzira, not without its own impressive passages, is what concerns us here.

It is tale of Incas and Spanish conquistadors in which Alzira, the daughter of a Peruvian tribe leader, is in love – reciprocated – with Zamoro, an Inca warrior. So too is the despotic son of the former Spanish governor, Gusmano – not reciprocated!

Kate Ladner plays her third Verdian leading lady in three years for the festival as Alzira and last year’s Macduff in Macbeth, South Korean tenor Yung Soo Jun, returns as Zamoro.

Although no stranger to Buxton, James Cleverton makes his festival debut as Gusmano and Graeme Danby sings the only other character of significance, Gusmano’s father Alvaro.

Sung in Italian with English side titles, Alzira gets six outings, one more than the festival’s other flagship opera this year, Mozart’s Idomeneo also performed in its original Italian.

More readily encountered than the Verdi opera, though hardly in danger of over-exposure, Mozart’s post-Trojan War scenario of finds the King of Crete, Idomeneo, vowing to Jupiter in a storm-ravaged sea that he will sacrifice the first person he meets if makes dry land safely.

Should you not know, he then spends most of the opera dissembling on how to get out of the vow because the first person he meets turns out be his son, Idamante.

Principal cast members are Paul Nilon as Idomeneo, promising young mezzo-soprano Heather Lowe plays Idamante (a trouser role) and, ‘with eyes for him’, Rebecca Bottone and the excellent Madeleine Pierard, both in last year’s Lucio Silla, are Ilia and Elettra (Electra).

Stephan Medcalf returns yet again as stage director and the conductor is Nicholas Kok with the augmented Northern Chamber Orchestra, which also accompanies Verdi’s Alzira.

Not specified is who or what is accompanying Donizetti’s Daughter of the Regiment, a festival co-production with Jeff Clarke’s Opera della Luna, again no strangers to Buxton in the days when the annual Gilbert and Sullivan Festival took over the High Peak town.

Clarke’s irreverent takes on G&S were often hilarious while retaining spirit of the work and it remains to seen if this holds true in slightly different fayre with resonantly named Australian soprano Suzanne Shakespeare as Marie and a Spanish tenor Jesús Álvarez as Tonio – wonder if he has the famous nine high Cs in his voice!

Sung in a doubtless suitably worded English translation, it gets two performances as does a much more obscure Italian opera and composer, Tisbe by Giuseppe Antonio Brescianello, this year’s offering from Italian Baroque specialists La Serenissima in a concert staging.

The festival’s opening night (6th July) is a gala evening of operetta, musicals and cabaret in association with Opera North as part of the 40th Anniversary Appeal for next year’s festival.

Among those giving vocal recitals are Roderick Williams – Winterreise! and Lucy Schaufer, last year’s Florence Pike in Albert Herring who offers an interesting programme of songs by American composers hinged on this year’s Leonard Bernstein centenary celebrations.

Some celebrated pianists put in an appearance: Joanna MacGregor, Christian Blackshaw and Stephen Kovacevich. Leading flautist Ashley Solomon sandwiches Telemann’s Six Fantasias between works by JS Bach and CPE Bach.

Among notable instrumental ensembles are the Fitzwilliam and Sacconi quartets, Fibonacci Sequence, Aquarelle Guitar Quartet, Ex Cathedra, while Ensemble 360’s flautist Juliette Bausor can be found in an attractive concert of flute, oboe and piano music.

Medieval music ensemble The Telling is involved in a words and music profile of the 12th century Benedictine abbess Hildegard von Bingen. An equally fascinating prospect is a similar evening with Purcell as the subject.

Full details of these and many other concerts in the festival can be found at www.buxtonfestival.co.uk

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