a barmy yet sentimental comic romp of the kind in which Bampton Classical Opera excels

Opera, September 2011

Welcome to the dilapidated Victory Bar at the Hamilton Hotel, London!  It’s 1982: Charles & Di memorabilia adorn the shabby chic walls alongside assorted nautical relics.  Resident are an eclectic bunch of European metropolitans: an eminently sensible, if self-righteous, Dutchman, Sumers; Don Polidoro, an ardent Italian; and the morose English aristocrat, Milord Arespingh - their needs catered for by ‘on-the-make’ émigré Italian hostess, Madama Brillante, and her French waitress, Henrietta (ably assisted by gum-chewing maid, Rosa).  Except that Henrietta is actually Livia – formerly affianced to, and jilted by, Arespingh (ordered by his father to marry the horrendous Diana) – who is shortly to capture the fervent heart of Polidoro, who is himself to become the object of our landlady’s amorous attentions.  The scene is set for a zany tale of mistaken identity, courtship and duelling, with a dose of the pseudo-supernatural thrown in … a perfect scenario for a barmy yet sentimental comic romp of the kind in which Bampton Classical Opera excels.

Leading a fine cast was Bampton regular Nicholas Merryweather, whose relaxed, confidence and instinctive comic timing continue to impress (following recent performances for Longborough and ETO, he will surely catch the eye of one of the larger houses soon).  His warm baritone secure and resonant, Merryweather conveyed both the farcical bluster and appealing gaucheness of the passionate Italian, relishing the witticisms and neat rhymes of the effective translation by Gilly French and director Jeremy Gray.  Caryl Hughes, as a worldly, pragmatic Madama Brillante, was similarly engaging, while Adam Tuncliffe displayed a robust, pleasing tenor as the sanctimonious Sumers, effectively injecting a tempering note of seriousness into the chaotic intrigue. 

It is a major strength of this production that fun and farce never descend into foolishness and flippancy.  Thus, convinced that Livia possesses a bloodstone which renders her invisible, Polidoro is a perfect gull for Madame’s pitiless teasing, culminating in a mad-cap Act 1 finale in which supernatural vibes – or more prosaically, a storm – erupt in a swirl of smoke and flashing lights which set the light-shades jigging and the postcard rack spinning.  Yet, such antics are balanced by Kim Sheehan’s earnest, poised Livia, whose love and suffering were sincerely conveyed.  Sheehan certainly has the requisite stratospheric éclat in her musical arsenal, but at times her tone was a little two-dimensional.  As the hapless Englishman, bass Robert Winslade Anderson produced some fittingly tender moments, although he was occasionally adrift of conductor Thomas Blunt’s brisk tempi.  Blunt led a superb Northern Chamber Orchestra through galloping yet finely judged ensembles with assurance: punchy horns complemented a luscious string sound.  Overall, musical and dramatic details shone through naturally.  As one departing opera-goer was heard to remark, “a thoroughly agreeable evening – what more could one ask?”

Claire Seymour