superb in all departments

Opera, September 2004

Bampton’s ‘A’ team - including formidable new recruits - was reserved for La Vera Costanza, staged outdoors in Oxfordshire a month later. For it they engaged a new director (a shrewd choice again) : the patently gifted Alexander Clifton, an ENO staffer whose fine-detail tweaking of comedy – aptly enough, Bampton is sponsored by the Joyce Grenfell Trust - dovetailed seamlessly with the effervescent, quirky style Gray has established. I didn’t see a bad wheeze all evening : every idea, move and entry seemed polished, finished, thought through; relevant, deuced clever and McVicar-like. Clifton’s cast responded gamely to sophisticated comedy : everything gelled admirably.

‘Ah well, of course it’s not Mozart’ is a perception Haydn himself – whether mischievously or self-protectingly – apparently promoted. And when you strain ears for the beguiling obbligati (pirouetting horns and a patch of fabulous flute writing furnish obvious exceptions), indeed it’s not. Rather, this notably wise piece acquires Figaro-like definition by its arias, constantly shifting ensembles, and the clever clotting of characters and moods in Puttini and Travaglia’s libretto (here in a delightfully cheeky rhymed translation by conductor Murray Hipkin and Gilly French.)

Brian Parsons stood out as the loyal fisher-brother, Masino; Nicholas Merryweather epitomised Bampton’s gift for playing comedy to the gills without ever quite overstepping. Amanda Pitt made an amusing Baroness; Nicholas Sharratt beguiled as her vexed admirer. Ilona Domnich revealed Haydn’s maid Lisetta as almost a Susanna model. A substantial aria for Errico by Anfossi – seemingly borrowed by Haydn himself for Esterhazy - was charmingly retained.

Best of all, Huw Rhys-Jones – delightful as Flute in ETO’s recent Britten Dream - delivering Errico’s mock militaristic love-lesson (shades of Cherubino hover too); and Serena Kay as Haydn’s enchanting Rosina : it’s her constancy that flies in the face of inter-class (and here cross-generation) affections to win her ineptly jealous spouse back. As for Hipkin’s finales : superb, in all departments.

Roderic Dunnett