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<<  -- 2 --  Roderic Dunnett    AN UNUSUAL OPERA

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And the opera? Well, if Garsington, founded by the wonderful late Leonard Ingrams, the golden-touch banker-cum-opera enthusiast, youngest scion of a distinguished family, has over the years had anything about it that deserved our admiration -- apart from its spirited and cleverly thought-through casting and general stylishness in almost every effect -- it is Ingrams' boldness and originality in his choice of repertoire. OK, nine and a quarter Mozart operas since 1990, but who then was majoring on Der Schauspieldirektor, Lucio Silla or -- in 2003 -- there has even since then been a glut -- La finta giardiniera?

Members of the chorus in Garsington Opera's 'May Night'. Photo © 2006 Johan Persson
Members of the chorus in Garsington Opera's 'May Night'. Photo © 2006 Johan Persson

Or who would think to stage, with audiences uncertain, not just ten Haydn operas since 1990, not to mention Tchaikovsky's largely ignored Little Boots (Cherevichki) and Janácek's Sárka and Osud, but Strauss's Daphne (pure heaven), Intermezzo (pure wit) and Die Schweigsame Frau (the opera that put Richard Strauss head-on with the Nazi authorities, because of his determination to stick up for his librettist, the Jewish writer Stefan Zweig), Arabella, The Love of Danae (the other Ariadne auf Naxos, yet totally neglected) and Die ägyptische Helena, shortly to be seen -- hurrah! -- in the Big Apple? How lucky New York is to secure a visit by Garsington Opera: New Yorkers will find there is plenty of reason to make the journey in future to the outskirts of Oxford, where three operas are staged in a truly glorious English setting every June and July. Can we yet hope for the (presumably now derided, but wonderful) Friedenstag?

Antonia Sotgiu as Hanna in Garsington Opera's 'May Night'. Photo © 2006 Johan Persson
Antonia Sotgiu as Hanna in Garsington Opera's 'May Night'. Photo © 2006 Johan Persson

This year, alongside even more fascinating Mozart (only the second UK staging, after Bampton Classical Opera's splendid achievement a couple of years ago, in a garden roughly the same distance on the other side of Oxford: are those dreaming spires, the Big Toms, Magdalen tower and Radcliffe Cameras, spawning excellence afresh?): The Philosopher's Stone (Der Stein der Weisen), or Die Zauberinsel -- yes, the forerunner of The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflöte), with a libretto by Schikaneder and most of the music by Mozart's fabulously gifted (and largely unsung) pupil-cum-young assistant, Johann Henneberg, Garsington has shown its usual imagination and freshness by staging a Rimsky-Korsakov opera virtually never seen in the United Kingdom -- although with Valery Gergiev prowling the country's concert halls each season, one is quite likely to hear it in at least an unstaged version in venues as diverse as Cardiff and Basingstoke, Birmingham and Gateshead. The opera? Just two syllables in English: May Night. (or just possibly three: A May Night). In Russian, four: Mayskaya Noch.

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Copyright © 15 June 2006 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry UK

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