plenty of laughs…. strongly cast

The Oxford Times, 24 July 2009

“We had to use the church last night, for only the fourth time in 16 years,” I was told when I arrived at Bampton on Saturday for Haydn’s Le pescatrici. For a while, it seemed that we were destined for the church too, as the rain began during the overture and continued, with relentless determination, during the opening scene. Fortunately, it did stop, and there was even some sunshine, turning Bampton’s picturesque church steeple briefly into a golden monument. But you do have to wonder why we are so keen on alfresco opera in this country, given the vagaries of our weather. Even after the rain stopped, it remained dull and overcast, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only member of the audience who spent the next two-and-a-half hours trying not to shiver.

If anybody should have been shivering, though, it was the cast, most of whom were scantily clad in shorts or bathing costumes, as the action took place — rather ironically in the circumstances — on a sun-soaked beach in the fishing village of Taranto in Southern Italy. Set to a libretto by Carlo Goldoni, Le pescatrici is the tale of two fishergirls, Nerina and Lesbina, who are each engaged to the other’s brother.

When a wealthy Prince, Lindoro, arrives seeking the missing heir to the throne of Benevento, Nerina and Lesbina are both desperate to be identified as the true claimaint, so that they can sail away to a life of riches and luxury. Furious at their fickle behaviour, the girls’ lovers, Burlotto and Frisellino, disguise themselves as Lindoro’s aristocratic cousins and successfully woo them before revealing their identities. Meanwhile, Eurilda, the demure and unassuming daughter of ageing fisherman Mastricco, is revealed as the true heir. The opera ends with the four lovers achieving an uneasy truce.

With a bright new English translation by Jeremy Gray and Gilly French, the production raised plenty of laughs. Emily Rowley Jones and Serena Kay were strongly cast as Nerina and Lesbina, handling their arias with aplomb and flirting outrageously. Andrew Friedhoff and Mark Chaundy matched them well as their lovers, although Friedhoff appeared to be struggling with some of his upper notes. Lina Markeby gave a moving performance as Eurilda, while Robert Winslade Anderton was vocally powerful and full of fun as Mastricco. Alice Farnham conducted the Bampton Opera Orchestra with impeccable timing and control.

Nicola Lisle