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.

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.

Box office: 01298 72190

Lars Vogt appears in Music in the Round’s spring season

Lars Vogt, a true giant among present day pianists, represents a highly prestigious catch by Music in the Round for its spring season of concerts in Sheffield.

His career took of like proverbial rocket after being awarded second prize in the 1990 Leeds International Piano Competition and, in more recent years, has also taken to conducting.

A regular concerto soloist with all the world’s major orchestra and a much in demand recitalist, his talents for directing orchestras was recognised in September 2015 with his first orchestral post, music director at the Royal Northern Sinfonia.

Be that as it may, it will be Vogt and piano at the Crucible Studio on the 6th of February performing three pieces by Brahms: Three Intermezzi Op 117, Four Klavierstücke Op 119 and Variations on a Theme by Paganini Op 35.

Beethoven’s Appassionata Sonata officially ends proceedings after a rarity in this neck if the country, piano music by Janáček, his fabulous four-movement suite In the Mists from 1912.

Another top flight pianist still rising in stature appears in the season (16th of March), Yevgeny Sudbin, an Anglo-Russian who offers a fairly eclectic programme to say the least.

A selection of sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti (plenty to go at, over 600!), Beethoven’s Bagatelles Op 126, Chopin’s Ballade No 3, Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Overture, arr Sudbin, and Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre, arr Sudbin.

A third set of visitors to the Studio is the Piatti Quartet (21st of March) – returnees, actually! The distinguished foursome was here in 2013 and has gone from strength to strength since.

On this occasion, the Piattas precede Beethoven’ s second Rasumovsky quartet (Op 59 No 2) with performances of Mendelssohn’s last string quartet, Op 80, and Frank Bridge’s Three Idylls.

Once upon time, Roderick Williams was a visiting guest until the eminent baritone was installed as Music in the Round’s first singer-in-residence.

He has tended to challenge convention in the role and he is certainly doing that on the 28th of February with pianist Andrew West and a programme headed ‘Shifting Perspective’ at nearby Upper Chapel.

How he intends getting away with singing Schumann’s song cycle Frauenliebe und Leben – Woman’s Love and Life, with words clearly uttered by a woman only he knows – simply assume the guise of a woman? !

There are precedents. The words were written by a man and the first performance of the cycle was sung by a baritone!

Also being performed is a new work by Sheffield-born composer and conductor Ryan Wigglesworth, plus songs by Brahms, Clara Schumann, Howells and Sally Beamish.

The remaining concerts in MitR’s spring season are in the capable hands of members of the world class Ensemble 360 beginning (19th of January) with the three who constitute the outstanding Leonore Piano Trio as they reach concert 7 of 8 taking in the complete Beethoven violin sonatas, cello sonatas and piano trios.

Something of a rarity here, Piano Trio Op 121a Kakadu Variations, plus 7 Variations on Bei Männern from Mozart’s Magic Flute, violin Sonata Op 30 No 3 and Violin Sonata Op 96.

The undervalued Josef Suk gets an outing (23rd of March) with his Piano Quintet Op 8 followed by the second piano quintet by his son-in-law Dvořák, Op 81, Mozart’s Piano Trio K 496 being the ‘warm up’ piece.

Tim Horton continues his look at Schubert’s late piano sonatas (6th of April) with D 850 (No 17), preceding it with the composer’s Four Impromptus D899 and Ravel’s Valses Nobles et Sentimentales.

The remaining three Ensemble 360 concerts are at Upper Chapel, Adrian Wilson and Tim Horton (25th of January, 12.45pm) offering Poulenc’s Oboe Sonata, Britten’s Temporal Variations, Elgar’s Soliloquy and Saint-Saëns’ Oboe Sonata.

Naomi Atherton joins them (14th of February) for Reineke’s Trio for oboe, horn and piano Op 188 (he was a prolific chap!), two Schumann pieces: Thee Romances for oboe and piano Op 94 and Adagio & Allegro for horn and piano Op 70, before the Leonore Trio take over for the Brahms Piano Trio Op 8.

Rounding off the classical concerts in the season are Benjamin Nabarro and Tim Horton (22nd of February, 12.45pm) with violin sonatas by Mozart: No 24, K376 and Schumann: No 2.
All concerts begin at 7.15pm, except the two noted at Upper Chapel.

L’homme arme (Armed Man!)

With two outings for the extremely popular The Armed Man by Karl Jenkins at Sheffield Cathedral almost upon us, it seems a good idea to expound on a far from new phenomena.

Should you know it or not, The Armed Man is actually over 600 years-old!

It is a secular tune and one-verse French song, L’ homme armé, by whom and written for what purpose being lost in the mists of time. Theories as to its origin/s have abounded.

Having apparently emerged from nowhere in early Renaissance days, i.e. the 1400s, it was hugely popular for over 200 years.

More precisely, the tune was, the song’s words:

The armed man should be feared.
Everywhere it has been proclaimed
That each man shall arm himself
With a coat of iron mail.
The armed man should be feared

always having being of seemingly secondary importance.

Given the content of the text it may come as something of surprise to some that the tune was extraordinarily popular as the basis with composers for settings of the Latin Mass.

It was common practice to use secular tunes and melodies as the basis for Mass settings. The tune or melody formed a fixed point, known as the Cantus Firmus, from which the composer’s polyphonic imagination took flight.

The melody, the cantus firmus of L’homme armé, overflowed with contrapuntal possibilities which lead to ‘Armed Man’ Masses appearing left, right and centre in the 16th century.

Many were penned by Franco-Flemish composers, some producing two settings. Josquin, for instance, who came up with two of the best known ‘Armed Man’ Masses.

But it was not an exclusively Gallic phenomena. A well-known contemporary Italian chap, Palestrina, was also inspired to compose two settings, for instance.

The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace, to give the Karl Jenkins anti-war work its full title, can be said to be a renewal of six-hundred year tradition, but using a resolutely different musical language and wholly different concept in presentation.

In case you hadn’t noticed it before amongst the goings on in the work, Jenkins does quote the L’homme armé song in the first and last movements of the piece.

Both performances at Sheffield Cathedral have been prompted by 2018 being the 100th anniversary of the end the First World War in November.

The first performance is imminent, this Saturday, the 27th of October at 7.15pm and is from the Waldershelf Singers in a rare performance with brass band – Stannington Brass Band, no less and its music director Derek Renshaw.
The concert also features music and verse from the First World War period.

On the 17th of November the Sheffield Bach Choir will be giving voice to the Jenkins work under the direction of its distinguished music director Simon Lindley with the excellent National Festival Orchestra in attendance.

This concert, ‘Lest We Forget’, also takes in Elgar’s three-movement The Spirit of England, written during WW1 and Mark Blatchly’s setting of Laurence Binyon’s WW1 poem For the Fallen which also crops up in the Elgar work.

Birth of a Cello Concerto

Millions of concertgoers, not to mention a few thousand-or-so cellists, have every reason to be eternally grateful the American operetta and light opera king Victor Herbert.

But for him, Dvořák would not have written his popular Cello Concerto in B minor which features in the opening concert of the 2018-2019 Sheffield International Concert Season at the City Hall on the 5th of October.

No-one, except Dvořák himself, would have been surprised that he completed the concerto in early 1895, his last year as director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York!

With a successful violin concerto and piano concerto to his name, he long resisted writing a cello concerto, despite much petitioning – he did actually write one with piano accompaniment some 30 years earlier.

He couldn’t hear the cello in a solo capacity – fine orchestral instrument, entirely deficient for a solo concerto. Josef Michl, a student of Dvořák, said the composer “was fond of the middle register, but complained about a nasal high register and a mumbling bass.”

So what caused the late-in-life change of tune?

The answer is hearing Victor Herbert’s Cello Concerto No 2, it is said, at least twice when the eventual composer of such immortal lighter classics as Naughty Marietta and Babes in Toyland premiered it in 1894 at the National Conservatory of Music where he taught.

Herbert, Irish-born (1859), German-raised, American-domiciled (from 1886), was a celebrated cellist and conductor, along with being a highly prolific and successful composer.

The bulk of what might be called his ‘classical music output’ dates from before 1890 and, on the strength of his Second Cello Concerto, is not insignificant.

Stylistically, a million miles away from Naughty Marietta, its general outlook is reflective with much introspection, mostly confined to the central movement in Dvořák’s concerto and vastly superior in imagination and treatment.

An educated guess would be that it was this element of Herbert’s concerto that perhaps appealed to Dvořák and inspired the consummate masterpiece that is his Cello Concerto.

The soloist with the Hallé on the 5th of October is Laura van der Heijden, winner of the 2012 BBC Young Musician of the Year competition who is carving out an impressive career her herself.

Despite her name, she is British, born in Sussex to a Dutch father and Swiss mother!

Live from the New York Met!

Verdi’s Aida lifts the curtain on a new series of ten live relays in high definition of Saturday afternoon matinee performances from the New York Metropolitan Opera.

However, do not mark any of the following performance dates in diaries as being at Cineworld Sheffield as usual. The cinema chain, nationally, has pulled out of transmitting MET Opera screenings!

It leaves the one, ‘newish’ Sheffield venue where they can seen, the far less vast spaces of the Curzon on George Street, formally a bank, in the city centre.

The MET’s 2018-19 season in New York opens (24/9) with Saint-Saëns’ not overly exposed masterpiece Samson et Dalila from a ‘dream team’ of Elīna Garanča and Roberto Alagna, Sir Mark Elder conducting, which is the second of the live relays on the 20th of October.

Aida, a fortnight earlier on the 6th of October, finds she-who-can-do-no-wrong, Anna Netrebko in the title role of an opera that has been performed nearly 1,200 times at the New York Met since 1886, six years after the opera house was founded.

Amneris is sung by the highly rated young Georgian mezzo-soprano Anita Rachvelishvili and Aleksandrs Antonenko, a much travelled Latvian tenor who gets round the world’s major opera stages, is Radamès.

Much more of a household name among present-day tenors, Jonas Kaufmann, straps on six-shooters as Dick Johnson on the 27th of October for Puccini’s ‘wild west’ opera La Fanciulla del West, commissioned and premiered by the MET in 1910.

Highly regarded Dutch soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek is the ‘fanciulla‘ (girl) – a saloon keeper! – and the production, a revival, is by Giancarlo del Monaco, son of the famous tenor Mario and a celebrated Dick Johnson in the 1950s.

After a fairly spectacular and busy October the next offering on the 10th of November is much more recent MET commission, American composer Nico Muhly’s realisation of Winston Graham’s novel Marnie which Alfred Hitchcock turned into a film classic.

It premiered at English National Opera last autumn, no doubt accounting for quite a few Brits supporting American mezzo-soprano Isobel Leonard in the eponymous title role, including baritone Christopher Maltman, countertenor Iestyn Davies and soprano Janis Kelly.

Substantially more familiar before the end of the year, musically at least, is Verdi’s La Traviata on the 15th of December with another ‘dream team’ of Diana Damrau and Juan Diego Flórez.

Early 2019, the 12th of January, sees Anna Netrebko back singing the title role in Cilea’s fabulous Adriana Lecouvreur – if you like Puccini, you will love it! – and she is again at loggerheads with Anita Rachvelishvili as a rival in love, this time playing a French princess.

After wowing audiences in her debut performances of Bizet’s Carmen last season, Clémentine Margaine is back with an encore performance of the 2nd of February.

The Don José for the live relay remains to confirmed as do singers for Donizetti’s La Fille du Régiment (2nd of March); Wagner’s Die Walküre (30th of March); and Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites (11th of May).

All performances begin at 5.55pm, except the Wagner: 4pm; and the Poulenc: 5pm, and all carry English subtitles.

*It may be worth having a look at the Curzon’s website as a fair sprinkling of Royal Opera House relays are also on offer: http://www.curzoncinemas.com/sheffield

Music in the Round – Autumn 2018

Angela Hewitt and Rachel Podger are the standout names in Music in the Round’s autumn season of concerts in Sheffield which get underway with a ‘Bach Walk’ on the 16fh of September.

The much-celebrated pianist (13th October) offers music she is world-renowned for performing, that of Bach and it is substantial: Book 2 of The Well-Tempered Clavier, in the Crucible Studio.

The no-less illustrious Rachel Podger is across the road at Upper Chapel later in the year (6th December) with the distinguished, veteran York-based harpsichordist Peter Seymour and, naturally, a programme of Baroque violin music.

It takes in four works by Bach, two sonatas book-ending proceedings: in C minor BWV1017, and in G BWV1019 with, in between, Bach’s Cello Suite No 2 BWV1008 (transposed) and French Suite No 2 BWV813; plus, Handel’s Sonata in D and Vivaldi’s Sonata Op 2 No 12.

The season opener, the Bach Walk, is a repeat of a previous MitR event prompted by the the 250-mile walk the young Bach made on foot in 1705 to hear the revered composer Buxtehude playing the organ.

You are not being asked to walk that distance, just a mere five miles at the most between Edensor and Beeley on the Chatsworth Estate with some attractive music played by Ensemble 360’s Benjamin Nabarro and Gemma Rosefield to keep you going.

The jaunt sets off after Biber’s Passacaglia for violin at St Peter’s Church, Edensor, eventually arriving in Beeley where Bach’s Cello Suite No 1 at St Anne’s Church prepares trekkers for a return journey to Edensor by a different route.

A refreshment break over, it is then back into St Peter’s Church for Bach’s Violin Partita No 3, Britten’s Cello Suite No 3, Ysaÿe’s Violin Sonata No 2 and a selection from Bach’s Two-part Inventions.

A limited number of tickets will be available for this concert if the preceding stroll round the Chatsworth Estate has no appeal.

Venues in MitR’s autumn season are, in fact, somewhat spread out geographically for some reason.

The first of two concerts in season as part MitR’s ongoing World of Strings concert strand (Rachel Podger has the second) from the Ligeti Quartet, outstanding exponents of contemporary string quartet repertoire, is at The Leadmill (31st October).

So this is where you need to be to hear Steve Reich’s Different Trains and George Crumb’s Black Angel, plus less familiar works by John Adams, John Zorn and Tanya Tagaq.

Two lunchtime concerts from MitR’s resident musicians, the world-class Ensemble 360, finds members of the group at St Andrew’s UR Church, near the top of Upper Hanover Street (27th September), and Sheffield University’s Firth Hall (6th November).

Kodály’s Serenade Op 12 for two violins and viola and Dvořák’s Terzetto in C Op 74 for the same instruments can be heard at the first, Schumann’s Violin Sonata and Brahms’ Horn Trio at the second.

Much nearer to home (11th December), Ensemble 360 will be playing early works by Mahler – the single movement Piano Quartet in A minor; Josef Suk (Dvořák’s future father-in-law) – Piano Quartet Op 1; and Brahms – Piano Quartet No 2, at Upper Chapel.

There is more Brahms when the ensemble performs on home-ground, the Crucible Studio (1st December), his String Quartet Op 51 No 1 which precedes a new work for piano quintet by Laurence Osborn commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Society.

Completing the concert, Korngold’s largely exuberant Piano Quintet Op 15, written nearly a decade and half before Hollywood came calling, often leaves you wondering where he would have gone had it not.

Also in the Studio, the visiting Doric String Quartet (16th November), which has come up with a highly acclaimed recording of the Korngold (with Kathryn Stott) in recent times, is on more familiar ground with Haydn’s Op 33 No 1, Bartók’s No 5 and Beethoven’s Op 131.

Meanwhile, the Leonore Piano Trio reach the sixth concert of eight taking in the complete Beethoven piano trios, violin and cello sonatas (13th November) with the Cello Sonata Op 5 No 2, Variations for Piano Trio Op 44, Violin Sonata Op 24 Spring and Trio Op 11.

The season’s collaborative concert with Sheffield Jazz (12th October) brings the Jean Toussaint All-Star Sextet to town and, in association with the University of Sheffield Concert Season, the popular world music ensemble Rafiki Jazz will be ‘Up Close!’ on the Crucible’s main stage (5th November).

Further details, including start times and ticket prices (were you aware that under 35s can see many of the concerts for £5?) at www.musicintheround.co.uk

Katherine Broderick/ Ashley Riches with Simon Lepper – review

Anyone going to the lunchtime concert on the 18th of July in the Pavilion Arts Centre as part of the Buxton International Festival to hear, and see the excellent Kathryn Rudge will have been disappointed as she had “been forced to withdraw for personal reasons.”

Katherine Broderick was no mean replacement in terms of reputation; in fact, could be termed ‘super sub’ in sporting parlance. Be that as it may, there was the suggestion it had all happened at the last minute.

Very little of the originally scheduled programme remained, only one the six advertised Richard Strauss songs, reduced to four: Allerseelen (All Souls’ Day), and Finzi’s Shakespearean song cycle Let us Garlands Bring, extremely well sung by Ashley Riches with minimal histrionics.

To say the least, a highly animated singer, his account of Job’s Curse in one of three Britten transcriptions of Purcell sounded rather forceful.

The other two came over better, Katherine Broderick calming him down with Music For a While, before joining forces for Sound the Trumpet. Shortly after the soprano had the opportunity to show off her Wagnerian-proportioned voice with Strauss’s Zueignung (Devotion).

Proceedings were completed with seven of Britten’s folk song arrangements: The Plough Boy, O Waly, Waly, The Foggy, Foggy Dew, The Lincolnshire Poacher, the less familiar The Trees They Grow so High, There’s None to Soothe and the little known duet, The Deaf Woman’s Courtship.

Simon Lepper, it almost goes without saying, was an impeccable partner at the piano.


Tisbe – review, Buxton

Giuseppe Antonio Brescianello is hardly a household name among Baroque composers; in fact, a vast majority of people will have even remotely heard of him, let alone an opera by him.

Adrian Chandler’s first-rate period instrument Baroque ensemble La Serenissima is offering an opportunity to rectify the latter situation with a semi-staged concert performance of the opera, Tisbe, as part of the Buxton International Festival.

Brescianello was born in Bologna around 1690 and died in Stuttgart in 1758. Next to nothing is known about him before 1715 when he moved to Stuttgart and began playing violin in the court orchestra there.

A year later, he became court music director and completed what would appear to be his only opera, La Tisbe – seemingly, he penned a fair amount of instrumental music – in early 1718.

Although rarely heard, it is said to be of high quality and violinist Chandler, an Italian Baroque specialist, goes as far as to describe Tisbe as “a candidate for the finest Baroque opera ever.”

Monteverdi and Handel, for a start, would have something to say about that!

Nevertheless, you can appreciate where he is coming from. There is much fine music and a whole string of quality arias conveying all sorts of mood and emotion (within the confines of music development of the time), and you are rarely aware of the limited amount of linking recitative, unlike in most Baroque opera.

Brescianello’s ‘opera pastorale’ is the tale of Pyramus and Thisbe as recounted in Ovid’s Metamorphoses to an already extant libretto by Pier Jacopo Martello who also hailed from Bologna, although there is no evidence to suggest that they knew each other.

Two outstanding performances grace La Serenissima’s concert version, the Alceste of Morgan Pearse, a superb bass-baritone, and a no less fine tenor, Robert Murray as Piramo who turns in a riveting account of his lengthy scene at the beginning of act three.

Tisbe herself, surprisingly, rarely gets music of the same inspired level to sing but what she does have is expertly and beautifully delivered by soprano Julia Doyle.

Commenting on the music of the shepherdess Licori is barely possible as Hilary Summers, an excellent contralto, was stricken with a throat infection. With what voice was at her disposable, however, she still managed an engaging performance.

The eight-member chorus renders what little it has to do without fuss, stage director Mark Burns (not averse to some harmless humour) coming up with an ingenious way to employ the octet in one of its many stretches of vocal inactivity.

Adrian Chandler and harpsichordist Robert Howarth are joint music directors and cellist Vladimir Waltham cries out for mention for his contributions to the proceedings

Further performance: 17th of July

The Daughter of the Regiment – review

Michael Tipler reviews the joint Opera della Luna/ Buxton International Festival production of Donizetti’s opera 

La Fille Du Regiment (The Daughter of the Regiment) was the comic opera with which, in 1840, Donizetti began his domination of the opera scene in 19th century Paris – generally considered the ‘artistic capital of the western world’— after successes in Italy with Anna Bolena (1830) and Lucia di Lammermoor (1835).

In light romantic/comic vein, it concerns Marie, a tomboyish young woman found abandoned as a baby and adopted by a regiment of soldiers, all of whom she regards affectionately as her ‘fathers.’ She has just been rescued from a dangerous situation (and had her romantic feelings stirred in the process) by Tonio, a stranger regarded at first with suspicion and hostility, but later welcomed into the ranks of the regiment so that Marie, whose feelings they fondly respect, can marry one of their own.

It becomes clear that Marie is, in fact, the product of a scandalous liaison between her natural father, an adventurer now deceased, and a young female member of the socially elite Berkenfield family. On discovering Marie’s whereabouts, her Aunt (nursing a secret of her own) reclaims the foundling, intending to smooth over her rough edges and make her fit to restore the family fortunes by marrying the son of her wealthy friend the Duchess of Crackenthorpe.

Musically, it is appropriately lightweight, with soldierly chorus numbers and sentimental ballads for the heroine, who also delivers her version of the regimental anthem. But the best-known aria is the tenor’s “Ah, mes amis….pour mon ame,” giddy with new-found love, and loaded with a notoriously demanding string of nine high C’s. This is the number that opera buffs will be waiting for.

Opera buffs, be warned! Purists, beware! This is an Opera della Luna production!

Sung in English—of a sort—the concept and the script are by company founder and Director Jeff Clarke. Aficionados of the Gilbert and Sullivan Festival (now relocated to Harrogate), which for twenty years followed the Opera Festival into Buxton Opera House, will be aware of Opera della Luna’s way with G&S operettas: a disregard for the traditions and conventions of D’Oyly Carte, and a relish of modern salty suggestiveness, while maintaining affection for the original and respecting Sullivan’s music and Gilbert’s wit. Jeff Clarke does not hold back from a dash of vulgarity in the language, a dose of slapstick in the comedy, even a passing suggestion of ‘queer camp’ and gender-bending cross-dressing. And so it is here with Donizetti!

Do not expect a full opera orchestra and chorus. Female choristers are dispensed with altogether and the males majorly reduced in number, though the few voices deliver their chorus work strongly. Do not expect Frenchness, or anything military. This Regiment is a cohort of Harley-riding ageing hairy bikers with their own code of Freedom and Honour, who camp out in the central desert of California with the Berkenfield mansion perched in the mountains above. Their leader retains his original name, Sulpice; his six gang members are dubbed Tulip, Beef, Tiny, Crispy, Rabbit and Lump. Californian drawl pervades the air, and Marie has learned to spit and raise a one-fingered salute if provoked.

While clearly enjoying herself in the character and throwing herself enthusiastically into the stage business, Elin Pritchard delivers Marie’s music with great accomplishment, a range of emotion, and full, sweet tone. As Tonio, the young Spanish tenor Jesus Alvarez is an attractive love-interest, if at times seeming a little inhibited in delivery. His strongly accented dialogue demands attentive listening. But he makes an engaging character, in this production topically suggestive of an illegal immigrant, a Mexican border-runner. If lacking the panache of a Pavarotti or Juan Diego Florez, his light tenor is pleasing to the ear, and his nine high C’s are carefully placed and secure. Job done!

But irreverent fun is the order of the day. Political correctness is out of the window and language is informal: in the first fifteen minutes Sulpice is heard to admit “I’m sh*tting myself”; when Marie is first introduced to her Aunt she exclaims “Holy crap!”; Tonio is first introduced as “a frigging spic.” In the opening of Act Two, Hortense, the Berkenfields’ camp Butler, has his suggestive way with a banana; and the famous singing lesson (designed to instil some ‘culture’ into a rebellious Marie) descends into hilarious physical comedy involving the abuse of a basket of oranges.

Later, party guests (almost entirely created in imagination by the butler’s mime) assemble to mark the proposed union of the Berkenfield and Crackenthorpe families. Social-climber Marsha Berkenfield is styled for all the world as if she is playing Mrs Simpson in an Abdication drama, while a transgendered Dulcie Crackenthorpe brings to mind Arthur Askey dragged up as Charley’s Aunt. When the bikers invade the mansion to rescue their adopted daughter for Tonio, now their temporary leader, she exclaims in rich baritone, “OMG, she’s a biker’s bitch!” Finally, Aunt Berkenfield’s secret is revealed, general reconciliation follows, and the young people’s love-match is celebrated in a jubilant, typically Donizettian ensemble.

Who knows how many of the first-nighters in a very full house had done their homework and knew what they were in for, and how many were shocked by what they saw and heard? In the event, the enthusiastic, sustained applause with whoops and cheers removed any doubts—a massive verdict in favour of Opera della Luna.

Further performance: 15th of July, 2pm