from 'The Oxford Times'

'The Oxford Times'

The Bampton summer opera is now in its seventh year, and last week continued its tradition of rarely performed classical and baroque works. The production was Giovanni Paisiello’s Nina, subtitled The Girl Driven Mad for Love. All the action takes place in a sanatorium, where the unfortunate Nina waits hopelessly for the return of her lover Lindoro, who has been killed in a duel with a rival suitor preferred by Nina’s father. Or so we are led to believe.

Under the direction of Jeremy Gray, the setting is transposed from the late 18th century to sometime in the 20th, which provides a good excuse for having Nina’s guilt-ridden father arrive on the scene in a fine vintage Rolls. Against all the odds, Lindoro turns up in the second act (with no explanation for his miraculous recovery), Nina gradually recovers her reason, and the happy ending unfurls at the sort of length usually reserved for tragic heroines to die in.

Paisiello’s music, noted among his contemporaries for its elegance, simplicity and charm, is altogether too charming for the sombre first act but well suited to the sweetness and light of the second. But if the music seemed to lack depth, the quality of everyone on stage more than made up for it. The professional singers in the leading roles of Nina (Michelle Harris), her companion Susanna (Amanda Pitt), her father (Henry Herford) and Lindoro (Howard Kirk) were outstanding, and there was also a fine performance from Justin Harmer as Giorgio, a valet somewhat in the tradition of Figaro.

The chorus of staff and patients at the sanatorium more than held their own, both vocally and dramatically, and the characterisation of the patients was at once subtle and disturbing.

The opera also benefited from an exceptionally good local orchestra, conducted by Guy Hopkins, and despite the potential hazards of an outdoor performance, the balance of singers and instrumentalists was everything one could hope for.

The weekend’s audiences had the satisfaction of knowing that they had seen a production which has just pipped La Scala, Milan, to the post (the opera is to be revived there this autumn) as well as the pleasure of being entertained in lovely surroundings and reasonably clement weather.

Paula Clifford