clarity, intimacy and communicative warmth...

The Oxford Times, 29 August 2002

The purple storm-clouds over Westonbirt School last week only unleashed their threatened deluge when the last chords of The Cairo Goose had sounded. Mozart thus proved that from some niche in Heaven he watches over his creations; he would presumably have drenched us earlier had Bampton Opera’s production Waiting for Figaro proved less than enchanting.

Fortunately, throughout this open-air extravaganza, directed jointly by Thomas Guthrie and Jeremy Gray, the singers and players did him brave service and, as a bonus, gave us the chance to listen to some Koechel numbers rarely heard.

The game-plan was to bracket Mozart’s abandoned opera-buffa torso The Deluded Bridegroom inside the four numbers written for The Impresario. Prima donna rivalries, singing competitions, lots of stage business fed into a plot whose dialogue was modernised in the now familiar style of Bampton’s tongue-in-cheek humour.

The aforesaid vanities were finally assuaged when, with the score of the Marriage of Figaro still lost in the post, the singers performed – faute de mieux – another Mozartian opera torso, the Cairo Goose.

The resulting high-jinks forged an ingenious armature to house some normally footloose Mozart numbers in which the musical craftsmanship rides high on a learning-curve: for, in Mozart’s career, the real Figaro lies in the near-offing.

Most ensembles, particularly the haunting penultimate trio of The Impresario, already dovetail that mature Mozartian balance between dramatic variety and unifying musical tactics. The cast was at its best in these.

Bampton has, it seems, evolved a kind of house-style for such occasions. The hallmark is clarity, intimacy and – a rarer achievement – a communicative warmth that embraces the listener and prompts much charity for passing flaws.

Of these there were, last Saturday, few enough Edward Gardner’s orchestra got off to a slow, thinnish start with The Impresario overture; Ilona Domnich and Betsabee Haas, as Madame Goldentrill and Mlle Warblewell, were allowed to posture too much; and Amanda Pitt, who sang her first, difficult aria with a conjuror’s ease, needed to assert more presence, and volume, in her spoken parts.

Still, with such names on the programme as Mark Wilde, Benjamin Hulett and Thomas Guthrie, replete with quality and character, the singing department could hardly go awry. Held at knife-point, I would (I think) award special medals first to Ilona Domnich, whose high-level squeaks in the final Impresario quartet sank to insignificance beside her luscious handling of her more impressive mezzo-work and impressive stage-presence; and second to Mark Saberton, now a familiar name in the Bampton cast-list, whose musical sure-footedness and subtle vocal colouring never fail him.

Derek Jole