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The Two Barons is a five-hander, with a scenario that is not a million miles away from that of Cosi fan Tutte, which is a sublime opera, for sure, but likewise a very silly one. Amalgamate the latter's Dorabella and Despina into the single character of the former's Sandra and the resemblance is almost uncanny, with manipulative schemings and machinations, mistaken identity, disguise, impersonation and a not altogether convincing uniting of the 'right' partners at the end. There's even a 'magic' scam, involving not one, but two Alcina impersonators, who ask us to believe that the celebrated enchantress of Handel's opera, has downgraded and relocated from her magic island to the local baronial summerhouse. I won't attempt any further elucidation, but I think it would be true to say that the plot is thinnest when it thickens!

All that we really need to know is that Demofonte and Totaro, the two barons in question, uncle and nephew respectively, are not the sharpest tools in the box. Their enjoyments include fine wining and dining, but not rocket science. The nephew is, after all, engaged to a girl he's never met. And thereby, of course, hangs the whole tale. If you never give two suckers an even break, anything can happen, and most of it does.

Laura (Fiona Harrison), Demofonte (Mark Saberton) and Totaro (Thomas Guthrie)
Laura (Fiona Harrison), Demofonte (Mark Saberton) and Totaro (Thomas Guthrie)

As may be imagined, musical considerations apart, if such a piece is to come off, it needs team-players of the highest order who can achieve just the right degree of gesture and comic timing, and really strike sparks off each other. Anyone who has seen previous Bampton productions will know that ensemble playing is one of their greatest strengths. The singers have mostly worked together many times before, and their rapport is enviable. Many more glamorous organisations would be hard put to deliver such spontaneity. But they are all fine singers, too, and very much need to be if they are to meet Cimarosa's often extreme demands.

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


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