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A Feast of Summer Opera




<< Continued from yesterday


There are odd glimmers of Mozart : Mark Milhofer stars as Tamino in a specially staged four day run in Oxford (31 May-2 June) of an undergraduate production of The Magic Flute, given at The Catholic Chaplaincy's Newman Room, in St.Aldate's, just opposite Christ Church. The Classical Opera Company's production of Mozart's La Finta Semplice can be seen at the BOC Covent Garden Festival on 20 May. Garsington Opera's Marriage of Figaro features a new Susanna, the Icelandic soprano Hulda Bjork Gardarsdottir, with Mark Stone singing Figaro and Peter Savidge the Count in Stephen Unwin's production. Longborough Festival Opera intersperses its in-house summer Ring cycle with three performances each of Figaro and Puccini's La Boheme (co-production with Visible Music - formerly Opera 2000 - and European Chamber Opera respectively). Clonter Opera, near Congleton in Cheshire - always a valuable sampling ground for new vocal talent - offers a piano-accompanied Marriage of Figaro, running from Wed 19 July for five nights. On l6 July Bampton Classical Opera stages a single performance of Cosi fan Tutte at Westonbirt School, near Stroud, Glos, while Tom Hawkes's staging of Cosi fan Tutte can be seen at the Holland Park Festival, West London (13-22 July).

Sarah Fox (Rosina) in the Classical Opera Company production of Mozart's La Finta Semplice. Photo: Annabella Bluesky

The other Holland Park operas this summer - now here's a feast - are Joao de Sousa Carvalho's unusual L'Amore Industrioso (21-4 June), Mascagni's L'Amico Fritz in Matthias Janser's new production (27 June to l Jul), a revival of Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera (1-5 and 8-12 Aug) and to set the ball rolling - in a season that seems to have gone lepidoptery-mad - Tim Coleman's staging of Madam Butterfly (6-l0 Jun).

Lada Biriucov resplendent as Cio-Cio San in the recent Opera North production of Madame Butterfly. Photo: Tim Smith

Constance Novis as Cio-Cio-San in the new Castleward Opera production of Madame Butterfly

Both Castleward Opera , near Belfast in Northern Ireland, and Mid-Wales Opera offer a new Butterfly (on top of the recent sell-out tour by Opera & Ballet International's vocally striking Chisinau State Opera, from Moldova - part of the old Soviet Union, plus a spectacular London and Birmingham Butterfly staging from Raymond Gubbay). Prudential Award-winning Mid-Wales Opera, normally a two-horse show, has just the one production this year; while Castleward features the delightful prospect of Flotow's Martha, directed by old hand Tom Hawkes, with Fiona McAndrew in the role of Lady Harriet. The other Puccini is from Horsham-based Opera Brava, who launch their production of Tosca on 2nd June.

Amanda Pitt as Eltruda (left) and Michael Powell as Alfred (right) in Bampton Classical Opera's outdoor production of Arne's Alfred

Grange Park's Rinaldo isn't the only Baroque opera staging around. At the Buxton Festival, Opera Theatre Dublin give three performances of Handel's Rodelinda, recently staged at Glyndebourne. And - now here's a name to conjure with - Thomas Arne's masque Alfred, originally composed for the celebrations at Cliveden of Frederick, Prince of Wales, son of Hanoverian King George II, in 1740, gets a rare outing (though it was also entertainingly and rurally staged by Bampton Classical Opera three years ago) at the BOC Covent Garden Festival, in the new Royal Opera House Linbury Studio on l7 and l9 May. Arne's own career alternated, as his fortune waxed and waned, between London's rival l8thC opera houses, at Covent Garden and Drury Lane. Alfred, a rather blandly but enjoyably patriotic mish-mash, went through several semi-operatic incarnations, not all improvements : one of the gains of later versions was the (possibly politically convenient) addition of Prince Edward, a punchy countertenor role with several full-blast almost-Handelian arias. 'Rule, Britannia', needless to say, still brings the house down.

Neil Allen (as the peasant Nemorino) courts the wealthy Adina in The Garden Opera touring production of L'Elisir d'Amore

On the classical front - apart from Mozart - there's Rossini and Donizetti : a Barber of Seville, also from Opera Brava (beginning in late June); and a widely touring production of L'Elisir d'Amore, mounted in English with reduced size orchestra by Garden Opera, who reach to attractive, unusual and intriguing venues in areas as far-flung as Norfolk, Shropshire, Herefordshire, Devon and Cornwall (30 June to 17 Sept). Rarer repertoire surfaces at this year's Buxton Festival, in the form of a new production of Schubert's Fierrabras, with Lionel Friend conducting, and Thomas Randle and Anne Dawson in the principal roles. Garsington, set in the ornate gardens of Leonard Ingrams' famous house outside Oxford - once the home of Lady Ottoline Morrell and stalked by illuminati such as T.S.Eliot - is reviving one of its now well-established Haydn series : Il Mondo della Luna, with Jane Glover at the helm.

Haydn's Il Mondo della Luna, first staged at Garsington in 1991

The classical delicacy of this summer, however, also staged in an Oxfordshire garden ideal of picnicking, is Stephen Storace's The Comedy of Errors (Gli Equivoci), an opera rarely staged (though Wexford have done it), and whose libretto is by Lorenzo da Ponte, no less (Storace's sister, Nancy, was Mozart's original Susanna in Figaro; the Emperor Joseph II doted on her), which Bampton Classical Opera are having a go at in their delightful rural Deanery setting just south of Witney. Simon Over, organist of St.Margaret's, Westminster and already one of the UK's most capable young accompanists and operatic repetiteurs, makes his operatic conducting debut. Looking further ahead, what's more, Garsington's summer highlight is to be (if you can believe it) the first of three planned UK stagings of Schumann's Genoveva : Garsington launches its production on 25 Jun, with the versatile Elgar Howarth as musical director.

Michelle Harris in the affecting title role of Paisiello's Nina (Bampton Classical Opera, 1999)

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Copyright © 11 April 2000 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK



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