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Brilliantly Engaging

Jirí Antonín Benda's 'Romeo and Juliet',


In the fourteen years of its existence, Bampton Classical Opera (this sparkling company celebrates its 15th anniversary in 2008) has virtually set the standards for original, slick and polished UK stagings of 18th century opera. But it has also uniquely (apart from Peter Holman's Parley of Instruments, specialists in an earlier musical era) effected a revival of ignored and undervalued rare repertoire, thus inadvertently setting a trend that is, in its own way, as significant an achievement as the 1970s and '80s period instrument revival.

Stephen Storace (England's finest around the 1790s) may not yet be a household name, nor his terrific treatment of Shakespeare's Plautine farce The Comedy of Errors, which contains choral finales on a par with his mentor Mozart (Storace's sister was Mozart's first Susanna). Giovanni Gazzaniga's Don Giovanni hasn't exactly ousted Mozart's in popular affections, or Paisiello's The Barber of Seville quite notched up a place beside Rossini. Yet Bampton has got people talking about these composers for whom nobody else in Britain does anything.

Salieri's Falstaff -- as good as Verdi's? Well yes, just possibly! And The Philosopher's Stone, Schikaneder's Magic Flute curtain-raiser, pioneered by Bampton (who mounted the British stage première), was snapped up by Garsington -- which has also (in baritone Mark Saberton) benefited from the fruitful dramatic and vocal nursery that is Bampton.

Romeo and Juliet, seen at Buxton, Bampton and Westonbirt in 2007
Romeo and Juliet, seen at Buxton, Bampton and Westonbirt in 2007

Thanks in part to the spiritedness of their translations (Bampton performs in English and in producers Gilly French and Jeremy Gray has its own in-house Jeremy Sams and Amanda Holden), and to the clarity of its diction, the outrageous flippancy of its stagings and the impudent wit of its polished young performers, Bampton stagings are sheer unadulterated delight. Amanda Pitt (comédienne extraordinaire), Mark Saberton (the buffo one), Tom Guthrie (the rubbery, sinuous, zany one), Mark Wilde (of the golden voice), Rebecca Bottone (with a bottom and coloratura to die for), Nick Merryweather (sensational as Bardolph in Salieri's Falstaff, which features a gloomy aria a bit like Nigel Planer's lugubrious Neil in BBC TV's 1982 sitcom The Young Ones) -- and with no cheating on or shortcutting the Geist (or spirit) appropriate to each opera, Bampton (like Emanuel Schikaneder before them), seem on the edge of creating a new genre.

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Copyright © 2 September 2007 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry UK


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