from 'Opera Now'

'Opera Now'

Bampton Classical Opera, annually based outdoors in an Oxfordshire village, specialises in reviving rare 18th centuary fare. Lesser Mozart, Arne (Alfred), Gazzaniga (Don Giovanni), and this summer Paisiello (Nina) have all benefited. The talents of Giovanni Paisiello (1740-1816) were drummed into the service of Russia, Naples and Napoleonic France. With 80-plus comic and tragic operas to his name, he ranked high among stage composers of his day. Mozart rated his strengths, which included a marked melodic gift, charm and an able collaborator and librettist in Giambattista Lorenzi. So where are all Paisiello’s operas now?

Nina, first seen in 1789 with Celeste Coltellini in the title role, enjoyed favour longer than most. With its rather monochrome, sentimental though touching tale of a girl driven mad by paternal intransigence and her fiance’s apparent demise, it won many hearts. It finds echoes, arguably, in Lucia di Lammermoor.

Jeremy Gray’s carefully considered staging updated Nina to the 1930s, and from the meticulous opening chorus entries looked and sounded well in its enchanting garden setting. Not just set (1934 Rolls-Royce fronting a stylishly designed backdrop, well lit) but make-up and costumes (an apt hospital setting) kept this production taut and focused. The outdoor setting diffuses the sound, but not too badly. The reactive accompaniment (non-Paisiello) was attentive, if occasionally hazy. Clarients, bassoons and flute shone, though some subtler, more charismatic coaxing from the conductor, Guy Hopkins, might have enhanced a few later string passages. Pick of the performers were Michelle Harris’s appealing Nina and, vocally, Howard Kirk as Lindoro, her unexpectedly restored sweetheart. Her two delicious Act 1 arias entranced, and her upper tessitura gained strength in Paisiello’s meatier second half exchanges. Other moments stood out: if Henry Herford’s Count rather lacked presence, Justin Harmer as the valet/chauffeur delivered his ‘breathless’ Mozatian message with zest; and Amanda Pitt briefly triumphed in Susanna’s Act II aria. The well-directed chorus characters caught the asylum atmosphere effectively, without a hint of overacting.

Roderic Dunnett