The Spectator, 4 October 2012

I’m not a great fan of precursors, or what Tovey called, in a once-famous expression, Interesting Historical Figures. Bampton Opera, however, is, and I went to its production of short operas by two IHFs at St John’s Smith Square with an open mind. The first work, by Philidor, didn’t do much for me, but the second, by Grétry, is charming and at about 80 minutes doesn’t outstay its welcome. Philidor’s Blaise the Cobbler is a predictable and laborious comedy about a couple who can’t pay the rent, and manage to lock the importunate landlord in a large cupboard. It mainly consists of short arias, written in a lingua franca style of the late 1750s, and gave its singers a chance to warm up for their larger roles in Grétry’s The Jealous Lover. The same sets were used for both pieces, and, as I’ve said, some of the same singers, young professionals of whom the most notable is Robert Anthony Gardiner, a tenor who acts as well as he sings; and Martene Grimson, a highly experienced artist with an appealing soubrettish voice. St John’s is ideal for listeners to broadcast concerts, which alas it is rarely used for any longer; but if you’re there voices tend to acquire a halo, which makes spoken dialogue hard to follow. Grétry’s pleasant idiom and ready melodic charm (Beecham adored him) are employed in this opera to dramatise a story that is startlingly like The Marriage of Figaro in respect of a surprise in who comes out of the closet, in the literal sense, and even in the pert music which accompanies that. Grétry’s strength seems to be in ensembles, the more the merrier, and I was impressed enough by this performance to want to investigate him further.

Michael Tanner