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In Roger Butlin's fabulously conceived Enlightenment setting -- all beiges and blues -- for New Kent Opera, there was a subtle undercurrent in that Alexander (James Oxley) was patently nursing a crush on Aminta. Thus at the end, when the foursome paired off as originally hoped, Alexander was left like a resigned Marschallin, wanly abandoned in an all-too paired-off world (the lonely world of the reluctantly 'civilised' despot). Some kind of equivalent conceit here (there were none of any depth) might have helped.

True, Paton's Alexander has the lines: 'You will be a good king if you are a good shepherd ...' '... Heaven shines on those whom it chooses to reign.' There is power, if also cliché, to Metastasio's text, but rather less if Alex's demeanour and line-delivery come closer to Frankie Howerd's in Up Pompeii! There was some rain during the evening, but impressively, none penetrated onto the Garsington stage or auditorium, though the Macedonian on point-duty up on the roof may have had a dousing.

There were some super -- if occasionally, due to some quirks of ricochet or muffling, subdued -- sounds from Garsington's Orchestra under Steuart Bedford, who has brought many a Mozart opera alive in that auditorium in recent seasons. Gorgeous oboe and (I think) viola sounds during the Act II scene where Aminta emerges slightly incongruously, clad in gold greaves and sandals; and some super decorative cor anglais and solo violin later on.

Lucy Crowe (Elisa) and Cora Burggraaf (Aminta). Photo © 2007 Johan Persson
Lucy Crowe (Elisa) and Cora Burggraaf (Aminta). Photo © 2007 Johan Persson

Those joyous rare moments when horns joined in, almost a caccia, were riveting, and the five-voice reconciliatory finale with the whole orchestra blasting sounded a treat. Some carefully underplayed and attentive cello and piano continuo worked excellently with Aminta's recitative. But possibly the most astonishing orchestral detail came at one of the defining moments of the opera: a slow, sustained aria for Aminta -- beautifully sung, for this was surely Burggraaf at her best, the boy become the man -- that suggests not just a Giulio Cesare, but soupçons of Don Giovanni (Donna Elvira?) or even of Cosi's Dorabella. Simply wonderful, and all the more thrilling for being totally unexpected.

Copyright © 15 July 2007 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry UK


Garsington 2008 runs from 4 June to 6 July and features Monteverdi's L'Incoronazione di Poppea, Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress and Mozart's Cosi fan tutte.

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