9 December 2000 Roderic Dunnett
Even more of a rarity is Gli Equivoci, or The Comedy of Errors, by the late Georgian English composer Stephen Storace, which takes its libretto from Shakespeare's comedy, brilliantly scissored and reworked by Mozart's librettist, Lorenzo da Ponte, in the very same year -- 1786 -- that Figaro was first staged in Vienna. Bampton Classical Opera, which shares its time between the enchanting Deanery Garden in a west Oxfordshire village and an intimate new outdoor venue at Westonbirt School, Gloucestershire, making good acoustic use of a Cotswold stone backdrop, has shown itself increasingly adept at delivering attractive homespun productions to new local audiences.
Jeremy Gray's Comedy of Errors production, colourfully set, sung in English and staged with just the right kind of wry wit, was something of a triumph, with the New College-trained Ben Hulett's Euphemio (Antipholus) of Syracuse, Catherine Hamilton's Adriana and Mark Saberton's Dromio of Syracuse arguably pick of the voices, plus an attractive vocal performance from the visually less versatile Angelo, Nicholas Merryweather. Simon Over conducted, building Storace's brilliantly phased ensembles admirably, although labouring in vain to counteract some markedly third-class upper string-playing.
Bampton are to stage Storace's The Comedy of Errors at The Theatre Royal, Bath on 13 March 2001 and Westonbirt School, Tetbury, Gloucestershire on 14 and 15 July 2001.
White Horse Opera, which treads the boards not (pace the photographs) outdoors in wild megalithic Wiltshire, but indoors at the Devizes Corn Exchange, has staged a number of effective home-grown productions in recent years, including Saint-Saens' Samson and Delilah, Rossini's Count Ory and (last season) Mozart's The Magic Flute. This year they turned to Bellini, staging Norma, generally regarded as one of the composer's finest bel canto masterpieces, and not so long ago a showpiece for Maria Callas.
The orchestral playing under Eric Wetherell, who shrewdly judged each pacing just right for both the opera and his singers, seemed a first rate team effort. The production's best feature was Andrew Taylor's evocatively painted back flats, effectively lit in alternating greys, reds and blues. Graham Billing's unimaginative direction, however, seemed skimpy verging on non-existent. Yet the three main principals made a marked impact : Paul Arden-Griffith's Roman proconsul, Pollione, was exquisitely sung, if limply acted. Geraldine Aylmer-Kelly made a superb stab at Norma herself, mastering Bellini's massively taxing coloratura with flying colours (albeit less secure at lower pitch) and cutting a fiery figure onstage too. Edward Harper's Oroveso had many of the key ingredients : a dignified strength of presence, beautiful vocal control and an appealing timbre. The chorus sang with spirit and aplomb, though the impressive dominating oak tree rather capped them in the acting stakes.
White Horse Opera's next opera will be Johann Strauss's Die Fledermaus on 17, 19 and 20 October 2001