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Bampton is a take-off point for young talent, and those who move on from the Oxfordshire- (and now Gloucestershire- and Derbyshire-) based company are never quite the same again. Guthrie, whose daring, brilliantly imaginative stagings of Purcell (in particular) have led him to a place as a director on the Royal Opera House's Young Artists programme, has his own trademark talents, but there is always a bit of Bampton buried among them. Bampton clings to you. Likewise its conductors, who have included the gloriously maverick David Owen Norris, the King's Consort's Matthew Halls and -- no less -- the new music director of English National Opera, Edward Gardner, have caught the bug of these wayward, never flashy productions. Bampton is like a disease you catch and never quite recover from.

Invariably Bampton springs surprises in its idyllic garden setting (when it can: the first Oxfordshire performance fell on the day of the July monsoon, when most of the drenched audience never made it through flooded roads. It was given in the adjacent St Mary's, Bampton, devoid of the marooned orchestra, but with Halls bravely sightreading the score, partly by candlelight and mainly thanks to a lamp powered by a running car battery, kindly fixed up by a sympathetic, roll-up-your-sleeved audience member).

Joana Seara as Juliet. Photo © 2007 Jeremy Gray
Joana Seara as Juliet. Photo © 2007 Jeremy Gray

This year it was Romeo and Juliet [seen 27 August 2007], better known as an opera by Gounod or Bellini, but in this case by Georg Anton Benda, a Czech (Jirí Antonín Benda, 1722-95), but affiliated -- as one had to be after the Battle of White Mountain (1620), when Bohemia was overrun by the Austrian Empire -- to his Viennese masters and the Austro-German tradition. Two centuries later even Dvorák had to speak German at school, and Czech opera of the 18th century was deep-rooted in the German tradition (think of Mozart's Don Giovanni première at Prague's German Opera house), as was that of the late 19th century, headed by Dvorák, Foerster and Fibich.

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Copyright © 2 September 2007 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry UK


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