Buxton International Festival 2019 – 2

Leaving aside an opening night concert featuring soloists from Cape Town Opera on the 5th of July, Buxton International Festival presents two further opera productions along with Eugene Onegin and Georgina this year.

Strictly speaking, one of them comes under the broad umbrella of operetta – actually, it’s opera comique, the most famous work penned by Offenbach, Orpheus in the Underworld – can-can, and all!

The slant it gets here remains to be seen when Opera della Luna returns following the company’s uproarious take on Donizetti’s Daughter of the Regiment last year – three performances: 8th (7.15pm); 11th (2pm); 17th (7.15pm) of July.

Also returning is Adrian Chandler’s super Baroque ensemble La Serenissima with another obscure Italian Baroque opera. At least its composer, unlike Brescianello last year, is not entirely forgotten but badly under appreciated, Antonio Caldara,.

Having said that, unearthing anything on the opera representing him, Lucio Papirio Dittatore, falls into the realms find me if you can, though Sgr Papirio would appear to be a dictatorial chap.

But, enough of levity. The opera by the hugely prolific, Venetian-born Caldara (1671-1736) could be the festival’s most conspicuous success. To quote the blurb for it:

“The story of family strife in pre-Imperial Rome, this forgotten gem by the Italian composer Antonio Caldara, featuring jubilant choral writing and dazzling virtuoso arias.

“Lucio Papirio Dittatore was composed by Caldara in 1719, by which time he was serving as vice-kapellmeister to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI.

“Being composed for the imperial court, there are a number of characteristics rarely found elsewhere in opera seria, such as the use of the aria madrigale, a large amount of ballet music and a significant number of choral movements.

“This is a work composed on a grand scale, glorifying both the genre of opera seria and the name of the emperor.”

A Caldara crash course, courtesy of Philippe Jaroussky, Caldara in Vienna (Forgotten Castrato Arias), 15 arias from 11 Caldarta operas, including a recit and aria from Lucio Papirio) lends a certain veracity to it.

It’s colourful, lyrical, melodic, virtuoso vocal writing, jubilant even! as well as imaginative, both vocally and instrumentally – a consummate delight in itself!

Small wonder the English composer Charles Avison wrote in his Essay on Musical Expression in 1752: “The chaste and faultless Corelli; the bold and inventive Scarlatti; the sublime Caldara”!!!

A first rate-looking cast is headed by the excellent tenor Robert Murray in the title role (you may recall him in the Brescianello opera last year) and Caldara’s Lucio Papirio is sung in its original Italian with English side titles.
There are three performances on the 9th and 13th of July (both 7.15pm), plus a matinee on the 18th (2pm).

All the operas in the festival are staged at the historic Buxton Opera House, including in the name of completeness, seven late morning performances of a community opera, The Orphans of Koombu, a South African chamber opera.

La Serenissima appear elsewhere divorced from Antonio Caldara and the human singing voice in this year’s jam packed festival between the 5th and 21st of July when the ensemble performs Vivaldi and re-visit Brescianello at St John’s Church.

Peter Donohoe, who gave his first public recital in Buxton longer ago than he probably cares to remember, is given a residency taking in four highly attractive late afternoon recitals at the Pavilion Arts Centre (10th-11th July; 15th-16th July).

Such names as Imogen Cooper, Benjamin Frith. Roderick Williams also appear, as do Voces8, the Ex Cathedra Consort, and there is a lunchtime Tchaikovsky string quartet cycle from returning Victoria String Quartet at St John’s Church (18th-20th July).

Full details for the whole festival can be found on the Buxton Festival website.

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Buxton International Festival 2019 – 1

This year’s Buxton Festival gets underway for the 40th time on the 5th of July.

Its official name since last year is, in fact, Buxton International Festival labelling it with a rather unfortunate, or eye-catching acronym (depends on your view) – the regularly used (some may say over-used) BIF!

Pugilistic thoughts (with an added ‘f’) aside, you could almost say it’s a new start four decades on with a new artistic director, Adrian Kelly, a RNCM graduate, early career at Royal Opera House, latterly music director at the Salzburg State Theatre.

A number of events mark the festival’s 40th anniversary, the most ambitious being a new opera commissioned for the occasion, Georgiana, strictly an opera pasticcio, based on the life and times of Georgiana Cavendish, the colourful and thoroughly controversial 5th Duchess of Devonshire.

Music is ‘borrowed’ by Mark Tatlow, who conducts the opera, from composers who were her contemporaries: Martin y Soler, quoted in the supper scene of Mozart’s Don Giovanni; Giovanni Paisiello, the most popular opera composer in his day; Stephen Storace, brother of Nancy Storace a famous Susanna in Mozart’s Figaro, Thomas Linley, the ‘English Mozart’; and the man himself, Mozart.

Well thought of young Australian soprano Samantha Clarke is cast as Georgiana, tenor Benjamin Hulett who has quietly built a high international reputation in keeping with his early promising vocal gifts, is the Duke of Devonshire and the other key player in the drama, Bess, is played by Susanna Fairbairn, another extremely talented young soprano.

The new texts, obviously in English, are by Michael Williams and Georgiana will receive four performances, on the 7th (matinee, 2pm); the 12th; 15th; and 20th of July (all 7.15pm).

Receiving five performances: 6th; 10th; 14th (matinee, 2pm); 16th; 19th (all 7.15pm), Buxton’s second flagship opera its 40th year is much better known and hardly an obscurity even if you are not falling over productions it, e.g. Verdi and particularly Puccini operas: Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin after Alexander Pushkin.

Should you not know, Onegin is a selfish, wilful, completely thoughtless, wealthy landowner who breaks a young girl’s heart and kills his only friend, Lensky, in a one-sided dual. After this he leaves Russia and travels round Europe for five years and returns home remorseful and chastened intent on marrying the girl he had coldly rejected, Tatyana.

He is too late as she is now married to Prince Gremin and no amount of pleading on his part will induce her to leave him. She leaves Onegin a broken man.

It’s a powerfully emotional final scene, the opera’s two best known numbers being Tatyana’s Letter Scene when she expresses her love for Onegin and Lensky’s Farewell knowing Onegin will kill him in their dual. A couple of purely orchestral pieces may have a familiar ring, a waltz and a polonaise.

The opera, conducted by new festival artistic director Adrian Kelly, is sung in an English translation and features an exciting-looking line up of young singers in the principal roles.

Tatyana is in the hands of American soprano Shelley Jackson, a recent graduate from International Opera Studio at the Zürich Opera House who has been having conspicuous success in Europe in of late. Playing her stage sister Olga is Angharad Lyddon, representing Wales in the 2019 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World, which began on the 15th of June – until the 22nd.

As Onegin, Oxford-born George Humphreys, another graduate from International Opera Studio at the Zürich Opera House, pursues a successful career as a baritone in opera and concert work across Europe and gets to these shores occasionally. Bidding farewell to life as Lensky will be David Webb, an extremely busy British lyric tenor at home and abroad.

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