From 'Opera' magazine, November 2000

'Opera' magazine, November 2000

Lorenzo da Ponte (l749-1838) was still in his thirties when Figaro and Così were first staged in Vienna; he died aged almost 90, having enjoyed a latterday incarnation managing the newly-built Italian opera house in New York. Yet it was in the very year of Figaro's triumph, 1786, that da Ponte turned his hand, somewhat hurriedly, to providing a libretto for the 24 year old Stephen Storace, whose sister Ann (Nancy) had been Mozart's first Susanna. Gli Equivoci (The Comedy of Errors) was based on the Shakespeare play, of Roman origins, about the long-separated pairs of master and servant and the misadventures that befall them in Ephesus before they are finally reunited. Both The Marriage of Figaro and Così, of course, are veritable comedies of errors, mistaken identity and unpredictable encounter, providing the perfect preamble to da Ponte's task of adapting Shakespeare. He takes the slightly straggling play, tightens it, emphasises the women's role, heightens the pathos of the confusions and recognitions, and galvanises the whole with a dozen varied size ensembles which in design and imagination can legitimately be compared to Figaro itself. Storace is not Mozart, especially as an orchestrator - though a few Stadler-like moments for clarinet are uplifting. One went ready for disappointment. But no such thing : Bampton Classical Opera's production put scarcely a foot wrong. Nifty comedy, colourful settings, beautifully contrived send-up, imaginative moves, a real sense of directorial pacing, clear words (in Arthur Jacobs's immensely successful translation) and a clutch of promising voices made this an evening to be savoured. Both Dromios (baritones Mark Saberton - in the role probably sung by Mozart's Figaro, Benucci - and the visually and vocally elastic Thomas Guthrie) made a strong vocal showing; so did Benjamin Hulett's mellow-tenored Euphemio (Antipholus) of Syracuse (in Michael Kelly's original role) and Catherine Hamilton's Adriana (Sofronia) - the part taken by Nancy Storace at the Vienna premiere. Angelo's repetitive leavetaking (Nicholas Merryweather) brought a comic irony worthy of Falstaff; Amanda Pitt, though less securely-voiced, was a melting, guilt-ridden Luciana (Sostrata). Henry Herford brought dignity to the Duke. The reconciliation sextet was beguiling; the two gradually-built finales, quite magnificent. Simon Over, conducting, suffered from recalcitrant violins and never quite tamed them; by contrast his Così for Bampton the preceding week was a model of intelligently relaxed, idiomatic timing.

Roderic Dunnett