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Wit and Originality

Garsington Opera presents The Philosophers' Stone,


The late Leonard Ingrams, Garsington Opera's founder and artistic director, who tragically died at the wheel of his car while returning home from Glyndebourne shortly after last year's Garsington Festival, not only had one of the acutest minds in the operatic business, but was from the start (back in 1989) a courageous and innovative season planner.

Leonard and Rosalind Ingrams, with canine friend
Leonard and Rosalind Ingrams, with canine friend

This year's Garsington Opera Festival, the last that Ingrams mapped out in its entirety -- although he doubtless had ideas for seasons much further ahead -- showed his usual wit and originality, featuring no less than three comic operas: Donizetti's Don Pasquale; Romsky-Korsakov's May Night (the more remarkable as Rimsky operas are very rarely staged by British companies; it would be a delight to see a Snow Maiden sometime); and The Philosophers' Stone, intriguingly described as being 'by Mozart and others'.

The last was the real plum of 2006, but also safer. By contrast, Rimsky is a risk for any private festival heavily dependent on sale of seats for its income; yet surely a worthwhile one. This bold gamble by Ingrams paid handsome artistic dividends. In short, a visit to Garsington should be on the circuit of every true opera-loving visitor to Britain. The Italianate gardens, the delightful view and the setting alone deserve it.

The Philosophers' Stone. Since when has that formed part of the Mozart corpus? In most senses, it still doesn't. Mozart's 'operatic' output began with the sacred opera-oratorio Die Schuldigkeit des Ersten Gebots -- co-composed with Michael Haydn when Mozart was aged just eleven, and a charming and worthwhile work even by Mozart's later standards (the mature Il re pastore, for instance). He rounded off his operas (not that he intended to) with La Clemenza di Tito and The Magic Flute, both in September 1791 -- the latter being staged at the end of that month, only nine weeks before Mozart expired -- with or without Salieri's assistance -- on 5 December 1791.

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Copyright © 9 July 2006 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry UK


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