Seville party in the charm of Bampton

The Oxford Times 22 July 2005

Giovanni Paisiello's version of Beaumarchais' famous comedy was eclipsed in 1816 by Rossini's more celebrated adaptation. But here at Bampton, in the cosy intimacy of the Deanery garden, it sparkled brightly and convincingly against the occasional clatter of picnicker's knives and forks.

The new English translation by Gilly French and Jeremy Gray hit the mark too, delivered with droll appreciation by an energetic and enthusiastic cast, who somehow managed to convey the impression that this was, in fact, just a big family party. Therein, of course, lies Bampton's charm – and the reason so many come back for more, year after year.

As always, the production benefited from economical staging and visual fun. A cluster of promising young singers coped well with the demands of singing out of doors, although it did occasionally seem as if they were doing battle with the orchestra.

Adrian Dwyer, as Count Almaviva, fared the least well in this respect. Gorgeously honey-toned though his voice is, it could have done with a bit more oomph. Nicholas Merryweather's spirited Figaro demonstrated how it should be done; with verve, panache and vocal clout.

Rebecca Bottone was charming as Rosina, singing with clarity and dexterity, particularly in her pensive soliloquy at the end of act one as she ponders her predicament. Paul Carey Jones and Marc Labonnette turned in some fine comic performances as Bartolo and basilio respectively, while David Murphy and Jonathan Sells nearly outshone them in the small but hilarious roles of the two inaptly named servants, Mr Sprightly and Mr Lively.

Paisiello doesn't stretch his singers as much as Rossini, and his music doesn't have quite the same fizz. But it is elegant and charming, with plenty of melodic interest. The ensembles were particularly enticing, sung with great eloquence and joy.

Paul Hoskins conducted discreetly and conscientiously, ensuring that Paisiello's variations in mood and texture were fully realized. We just needed a better balance between orchestra and singers.

Nicola Lisle