something out of the ordinary

The Oxford Times, 25 July 2008

For those who haven't been, Bampton Classical Opera is rather eccentric, in an English sort of way. The audience bring their own chairs and the organisation has a charmingly quality. The singers are professional, however, and the repertoire usually provides an opportunity to hear something out of the ordinary.

Saturday's offering was Leonora, by Ferdinando Paer, a contemporary of Beethoven. The work is based on the same literary source as Fidelio. Paer specialised in semiseria operas with two plot lines - one serious and dramatic, the other comic. The wrongfully imprisoned Florestano and his wife Leonora (disguised as a man - Fidelio) provide the high drama, while Marcellina, the gaoler's daughter, and her suitor Giacchino deliver the comedy.

Dramas involving prisoners being rescued by faithful spouses were popular around the time of the French Revolution and the play on which this opera and Fidelio are based is a typical example of this genre. The central plot is overly melodramatic and plods along towards an outcome which is never in doubt.

Leonora has two affecting arias in the middle of the first act which temporarily elevate the overall tone, and Florestano sings a moving aria in which he pleads for water. There is also a fine dramatic moment in Act II when three chimes ring out from the percussion announcing the hour of Florestano's appointed murder. Otherwise the show is stolen by the comic subplot.

It was with Marcellina's unrequited passion for Fidelio, and Giacchino's clumsy wooing, that this production came to life. For me the young Emily Rowley Jones as Marcellina was the star of the piece. Both her singing and her acting were delightful. Adrian Powter was persuasive as Rocco and Cara McHardy (Leonora) was in fine voice in the arias in Act I, and in the lovely duet with Marcellina in Act II. The rest of the cast gave capable performances, and the orchestra provided good support.

Simon Collings