invariably slick, …cleverly imaginative...

Opera Now, November 2006

Another Mozart? Maybe not quite. But Vicente Martín y Soler, along with Salieri, Paisiello and Cimarosa, enjoyed massive popularity in Joseph II's Vienna. Later he went on to a similar success at the court of Catherine the Great, and from St Petersburg made his way in the 1790s to London's King's Theatre.

It was Lorenzo da Ponte who partly accounted for this success. La capricciosa corretta (usually, slightly misleadingly, dubbed The Taming of the Shrew, although Shakespeare's Petruchio and Katharina have nought to do with it) was the fourth of five collaborations between the pair (three for Vienna, including Una cosa rara; two for London). It's an amiable tale about a wilful new spouse won back to the family fold by the wiles of two servants, with the offsprings' amours confusing the issue. Shades of Figaro? To a degree, yes.

The setting is Pompeii, AD79, with Vesuvius in sight; and during the opera the balloon actually goes up. It is typical of Bampton's ingenuity to attempt something as bizarre as staging an eruption amid the herbage and shrubberies of an English country garden, and even more typical of them to pull it off. The lighting and set effects were both hilarious and chokingly realistic. I still have the smoke in my nostrils.

Invariably slick, always cleverly imaginative, Bampton was ready to move up a notch, and this show arguably achieved it. Its casts are always characterful and well chosen; it has a rare gift for marrying professionalism with the tongue-in-cheek and making the mix work. This time, all the elements came together. Strong and lucid playing from the orchestra tent, well-nursed and paced by Paul Hoskins, ensured the music had plenty of punch and lots of character and colouring.

Adrian Powter kept the comedy flowing as the hapless merchant husband, Bonario, a character straight out of Goldoni or Beaumarchais; as the wayward spouse, Kim Sheehan came fully into her own as the evening unwound, serving up a delicious aria in the second half. Eamonn Mulhall and James Harrison provided entertaining diversions as boyfriend and wan suitor, and there were characterful vignettes from Tamsin Coombs and Peter van Hulle as the put-upon, long-suffering offspring who have marital plans of their own. The love scenes between Mulhall and Coombs furnished some of the most immediately winning music, but the quality rarely dipped overall, although one did miss that unique flair for obbligato special to Mozart. Pick of the cast were John Lofthouse and Amanda Pitt, who found plenty of 'Figaro and Susanna' spirit in Da Ponte's servant pair, Fiuta and Cilia, with pliant arias for good measure.

Robert Thicknesse was the wag behind the humour, serving up a sly and wrily rhymed translation up to Bampton's usual high standard. All in all, this was terrific value for money, with sizzling explosions thrown in.

Roderic Dunnett