It takes a fiery imagination to stage a full-scale eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in an Oxfordshire country garden. All credit, then, to Jeremy Gray’s set and production of Lorenzo da Ponte and Vicente Martín y Soler’s La capricciosa corretta (The Tamed Wife) for pulling off this cheerful opera’s thunderous climax with such delightful aplomb.
Martín y Soler (1754-1804) - a contemporary of Mozart - collaborated with da Ponte not once but five times: thrice during the Figaro years (1786-7) in Joseph II’s Vienna, and twice in the mid 1790s, when he switched his attention to Russia, where he served Catherine the Great, and then England.
La capricciosa corretta – quite different from Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew - involves the cheerful shenigans of two curiously Figaro-like servants as they seek to head off inappropriate suitors and restore their warring master and mistress. Chief culprit is the new mistress of the house, Cipregna (sung with increasing beauty and poise by Kim Sheehan). Her increasingly flighty fancies have distanced her from her wealthy spouse, Bonario (Adrian Powter), who has rashly embarked on a second marriage. Even the children, Valerio (Peter van Hulle) and Isabella (Tamsin Coombs) threaten to leave home.
It’s cheerful stuff, nicely rooted in Roman Comedy, with perhaps a milder moral undertow than Mozart’s Cosi or even La Grotta di Trofonio, da Ponte’s collaboration with Salieri, staged recently by Opera de Lausanne. In a capable cast, both of the central sparring duo served up handsome arias in turn. Much of the work’s success centred on the quick-fire scenes, reminiscent of Figaro, whereby the wily da Ponte makes pairs of characters interact in subtly-planned sequence. Bampton’s ensemble work is invariably first-rate; here it was rarely less than outstanding; several duets were excellent.
Bampton has played its part in encouraging some pristine young talent (the most recent being the fine soprano Rebecca Bottone). One of the company’s most valuable assets is Amanda Pitt (here, as the Despina-Susanna figure, Cilia): it was she, along with baritone John Lofthouse as her fellow-servant Fiuta, who brought out the fun and the fizz in this amazingly swift-moving, clever production. Bampton stagings always look good; spiced with imagination, this one looked terrific. The evening sprouted numerous finely-honed exits and wittily-contrived surprises.
Soler’s arias can seem a little more pert than Mozart, his ensembles less fulsome, his obbligati plainer, but there were some splendid orchestral touches enlivened by unexpected harmonic dalliance. These the thoughtful conductor Paul Hoskins allowed to beam through, culminating in the musically vivid eruption sequence. Robert Thicknesse’s artful English translation greatly enlivened the evening.