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.
Box office: 01298 72190