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Pace and Wit

Albert Lortzing's 'Der Wildschütz',
reviewed by MIKE WHEELER


Somewhere between Schubert at his most homespun and Gilbert and Sullivan sits Albert Lortzing's Der Wildschütz, or 'The Poacher' as Patrick Mason's English version calls it. This jolly, inconsequential little piece centres on a village school teacher, who is engaged to his former ward -- Gretchen, a girl half his age -- and who has been sacked for shooting one of the Count's deer. The complications hindering his attempts to get his job back include the Baroness, the Count's long-lost sister, disguised as a student in order to size up a prospective husband; the Count's friend the Baron (the husband in question); the Baron's estranged sister, the Countess, who lives in a parallel universe of Greek tragedy; the resulting web of mistaken identities; a power struggle between the Count and the Baron that masquerades as a game of billiards; and the Baron's offer to the teacher of 5000 thalers in exchange for Gretchen, although he thinks he's getting the Countess, whose assumed male persona is now dressed as a woman -- you get the picture.

Full of attractive, though not particularly memorable, music, the opera's great strength is its string of highly effective ensembles, which this production capitalised on (Buxton Festival, Buxton, UK, 10 July 2008).

James Rutherford was in fine, resonant voice as the teacher, Baculus, deferential to the Count one moment, trying, not very successfully, to assert his authority over his fiancée the next. The relish with which he considers how he is going to spend the 5,000 thalers made his big end-of-Act 2 number, rightly, one of the evening's highlights.

Ashley Holland's wonderfully bovine Count met his match in Judith Howarth's Baroness. Her believable mixture of charm and determination was nicely counterpointed against Benjamin Hulett as the Baron, whose initial world weariness shaded off convincingly into romantic ardour when she appeared, doubly-disguised.

Imelda Drumm found a consistent level of extravagant theatricality for the Countess, such that whether hammily declaiming her adored Sophocles or simply taking a fancy to the Baron, you could hardly tell the difference.

As the Majordomo, Pancratius, Jonathan Best viewed the goings-on with stoical bewilderment.

Designer Joe Vanek's green-walled set, with its large entrance at the back and subsidiary doorways downstage, served convincingly as both outdoor and indoor locations, allowing simple transformations from one to the other.

Patrick Mason's production, like his libretto, had pace and wit and, conducted by Festival director Andrew Greenwood, it all bubbled along merrily.

Copyright © 17 July 2008 Mike Wheeler, Derby UK




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