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the Two Barons of Rocca Azzurra


'No other composer displays this ... expressiveness and sense of what is appropriate, this joy and tenderness and, especially, this pervasive leaven that enhances all the other qualities -- incomparable elegance, elegance to express tender sentiments, elegance to convey humour, elegance to indicate gentle pathos ...'

So which late eighteenth century composer might that be? 'Pretty obvious', I'm sure you're thinking, but I'd be willing to venture a substantial wager that you're wrong. Not only is Eugene Delacroix, the perpetrator of those honeyed words referring to Domenico Cimarosa (1749-1801), but he goes on to find a certain Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wanting by comparison. In time, of course, true values will out, and Cimarosa no longer graces the dizzy heights of the musical Premier League that his contemporary so unassailably occupies. But the fact that, in his own lifetime and beyond, he very much did, makes the prospect of hearing what all the laudatory fuss was about a tantalising one.

Once again, Bampton Classical Opera put us in their debt by affording us the opportunity of hearing an excellent and meticulously prepared performance of a forgotten rarity of the eighteenth century, their specialist field of restorative evangelism. Cimarosa's I due baroni di Rocca Azzurra (1783) was the suitable case for treatment they brought with them to London on 18 September 2003 from a sunny terrace in Gloucestershire.

What, then, is your critic's assessment of this present exhumation? Firstly, and quite simply, it has to be said that both the work and the performance it received made for a hugely enjoyable evening. Cimarosa certainly had his work cut out, though. Giuseppe Palomba, his librettist, was no Lorenzo da Ponte, and even given the artifice of opera, it would be difficult to imagine a dafter or more implausible plot. It carried all the conviction of a politician being sincere and all the probability of porcine aviation, but in the sparkling and witty translation by Gilly French and Jeremy Gray, it was an absolute hoot. True farce at its best is not in the business of being believable, but of being entertaining and richly funny. This show was just those things. QED.

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Copyright © 25 September 2003 David Thompson, Eastwood, Essex, UK


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