evident relish…

The Oxford Times, 31 August 2007

We've dragged David off his combine, he didn't really want to come," a fellow member of the audience was explaining to her friend as they crossed the rolling lawns of Westonbirt House. David perhaps had a point: this was a glorious, warm, summer's evening, an evening almost unimaginable a month ago, when Bampton Classical Opera staged Georg Benda's Romeo and Juliet back home in Oxfordshire for the 30 patrons a night who somehow managed to make it through the floods.

Benda's work could be renamed R & J - the Sequel. As the curtain rises, Romeo and Juliet are already married. But their secret wedded bliss doesn't last long. Romeo must leave for Mantua , leaving Juliet with premonitions of death, and in no fit state to deal with her father, Capulet, who arrives to demand that she marry Count Paris. Strangely, Capulet does not seem to notice that she is nervously fingering her wedding ring as they quarrel.

This Romeo and Juliet, first performed in 1776, is a Singspiel featuring just six characters, and absolutely no crowds of warring Montagues and Capulets. Indeed there is little physical action of any kind, apart from a most effective funeral scene as Juliet is carried towards her grave. Even on a warm evening, the massive Victorian pile that is Westonbirt House provided a chilling backdrop to this scene.

As Juliet will shortly arise full of life from a drug-induced sleep, the irony hangs heavy. The clue that all is not lost comes from Benda's cheerfully lightweight score - dispatched with evident relish throughout by conductor Matthew Halls and the Bampton Orchestra. There was a delicious gurgling sound from the woodwind as Juliet downed the sleep-inducing magic potion.

The lack of action focuses attention on the voices. Joana Seara and Ilona Domnich both displayed a fine sense of line and style as Juliet and her confidante Laura, while adding as much characterisation as the writing allows. Meanwhile, Mark Chaundy (pictured with Ms Seara) was a suitably eager Romeo, and Adrian Powter's Capulet effortlessly jumped from fury to warmly shaking Romeo's hand as he finally blessed the marriage. "So Capulet was a good person after all?" a young audience member exclaimed indignantly afterwards, "I thought Romeo and Juliet was a tragedy!"

Giles Woodforde