the real joy of the English summer opera season...

Opera Now, November 2004

When I see an opera being described as 'seldom performed' or 'neglected' in a programme, I start to shift nervously in my seat preparing myself for a work that was ripped up and thrown away by the composer for a very good reason. One explanation for the unpopularity of Haydn's operas is that when it came to writing for the stage, his skills as a dramatist simply didn't match his genius in other areas - neither did he have the good fortune and judgement of Mozart when it came to the quality of the librettists he selected.

Despite there being something charming about La vera costanza - a quasi-serious comedy of love overcoming the social divide, where the heroine remians faithful to the father of her child in the face of hostility from him and his ghastly family - it is full of flaws, not least the entire final act where dozens of loose ends are tied together in a laughingly unconvincing few minutes.

Director Alex Clifton, the cast and orchestra did a good job despite the material they were given and brought out the comedy well. Clifton's tasteful slapstick, fine use of open spaces of the formal garden of the Deanery in Bampton, and an excellent staging of the overture made the trip worthwhile in themselves.

Serena Kay was excellent vocally and dramatically as the patient, wronged heroine, Rosina. Her lover, Huw Rhys-Evans, was suitably weak-willed, visibly wilting under the watchful eye of his aunt Baroness Irene, played by a confident Amanda Pitt. Putt's maid Lisetta (Ilona Domnich), suitor Ernesto (Nicholas Sharratt) and Masino, Rosina's brother (Brian Parsons) kept the humour bubbling along and produced some very fine singing. But it was the hapless Nicholas Merryweather as Villotto Villano who stole the show - time and time again he is rebuffed in his courtship of Rosina but he comes back like a faithful, optimistic puppy. There weren't many sustained vocal passages that he could sink his teeth into, but we heard enough to establish that he has a very fine, weighty baritone.

But for me, the real joy of the English summer opera season is the people-watching one can enjoy at places like Bampton - as much drama occurs on the lawn as on stage; the jealous glances at superior picnics, the polite jostling for the best pitch, the husband who has drunk too much champagne before the end of the overture. Who, I wonder, will write the first opera about opera audiences?

Matthew Peacock