...lively heartfelt singing…

The Oxford Times, 12 November 2010

Schumann has grabbed the lion’s share of the attention, while poor old Thomas Arne — born 300 years ago — has struggled to get a look in. Bampton Opera put that right on Friday with a double bill of two Arne masques, presented as concert versions — extracts from Alfred, composed in 1753 for the third birthday of Augusta, Princess of Brunswick, and The Judgment of Paris, composed in 1742, the same year that a fundraising campaign was launched to build the Holywell Music Room.

Much of Alfred has been lost since its composition, including the recitatives, but with the help of some clearly intoned narration from Jeremy Gray, and some lively, heartfelt singing from a splendid five-strong cast, the piece was brought to life, evoking the England of King Alfred and his liberation of his people, and ending with a rousing, unashamedly patriotic chorus that might sound familiar — it’s called Rule Britannia.

The Judgment of Paris — with a libretto by the poet William Congreve — humorously recreates the classic tale from Greek and Roman mythology that led to the Trojan War. Mercury (warmly sung by Mark Chaundy) is sent by Jupiter to the shepherd Paris (performed with great humour by Peter van Hulle), who must choose the most beautiful of three goddesses, and present his chosen one with a golden apple. Joana Seara, Serena Kay and Ilona Domnich, as Juno, Pallas and Venus respectively, drew some of the biggest laughs of the night with their antics in ‘Turn to me, for I am she’, as each tried to impress Paris, while the period instrument orchestra, conducted from the harpsichord by Benjamin Bayl, complemented the singers perfectly.

Nicola Lisle