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Rich harvest

Summer opera in the UK, reviewed and previewed by RODERIC DUNNETT

 

2004's UK summer opera has yielded a particularly rich harvest. The Norfolk and Norwich, Bath and Buxton festivals kicked off with a memorable UK stage première, updated to the nasty years of Argentina's recent history, of Astor Piazzolla's 'Tango Operita' Maria de Buenos Aires, with some fine dancers and Timothy Davies taking on the elusive role of the Duende (the Goblin; one might translate it the Dionysiac), originally created by Piazzolla's wonderfully inspired poet-librettist, Horacio Ferrer. Hot on their heels, the Dartington Summer School in Devon produced their own staging at the end of July.

Timothy Davies as El Duende in the Buxton Festival's joint staging of Piazzolla's 'Maria de Buenos Aires'. Photo © Robbie Jack
Timothy Davies as El Duende in the Buxton Festival's joint staging of Piazzolla's 'Maria de Buenos Aires'. Photo © Robbie Jack

Both Grange Park and Garsington have served up, independently, rare Tchaikovsky, each conducted by a master interpreter: Grange Park's staging, by David Fielding, of The Enchantress conducted by David Lloyd-Jones, revealed how many of the wonders we drool over in Eugene Onegin and The Queen of Spades were actually in place several years earlier; and Garsington's more uneven production of the even earlier Cherevichki (The Little Boots, or Slippers) suggests much the same thing, although not as adroitly staged as their cheeky UK première of Rossini's L'Equivoco Stravagante (or indeed Buxton's rip-roaring Il Turco in Italia with the insuppressable Donald Maxwell).

Donald Maxwell as Don Geronio in the 2004 Buxton Festival's 'Il Turco in Italia'
Donald Maxwell as Don Geronio in the 2004 Buxton Festival's 'Il Turco in Italia'

This colourful Turk -- with Tim Mirfin as Selim and Jeremy Huw Williams terrific as the poet -- joined Buxton's impressive Handel Hercules, an oratorio capably staged (in the manner of Katie Mitchell's recent Jephtha for Welsh National Opera) by Buxton's able artistic director, Aidan Lang.

Meanwhile Garsington's Cherevichki (originally entitled Vakula the Smith) is a forceful score, rich in dramatic colour and skilfully well-characterised by Tchaikovsky, who wrote it for a competition in the mid 1870s. Not one of Garsington's greater productions -- but full of folkloric fun, nevertheless, and uplifted by the singing of, amongst others, Opera North's and ENO's Mistress Quickly, the engaging mezzo Frances McCafferty, a performer with very much the same kind of comic presence as Maxwell, and here supported by Roderick Earle's (perhaps inevitably -- compare Dvorák's hilarious Kate and the Devil) hyperactive mischiefmaker.

The Witch Solokha (Frances McCafferty) and the devil (Roderick Earle) in Garsington Opera's 2004 production of Tchaikovsky's 'Cherevichki'. Photo © Keith Saunders
The Witch Solokha (Frances McCafferty) and the devil (Roderick Earle) in Garsington Opera's 2004 production of Tchaikovsky's 'Cherevichki'. Photo © Keith Saunders

 

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Copyright © 8 August 2004 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry UK

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