Jewels indeed

Opera, November 2006

Mozart’s The Jewel Box is a real treasure-trove: a delicious concoction - mimicking the 18th C form of pasticcio (here, a collation of solos and ensembles filched from diverse Mozartian sources) - so as to make a lively divertissement.

Its deviser, Paul Griffiths, has drawn on not just arias from operas Mozart never completed (Lo sposo deluso, L’oca del Cairo) but also items he wrote for insertion into operas by others – Anfossi, Piccini, Cimarosa – and used them imaginitively to ‘reconstruct’ a Pantomime in which Mozart and Aloysia Lange (Constanze’s sister) took part in 1783.

The music mostly dates from the 1780s: it’s top-drawer ‘mislaid’ Mozart, of uniformly good quality, and though it aches for more recitative, the wheeze of stitching these numbers together with an almost Straussian libretto is something one can be deeply grateful to Griffiths for.

As Jeremy Gray’s graphically staged La cappriciosa corretta (Martin y Soler) proved earlier this summer, Bampton’s inventive daring grows ever more finessed. Apart from the problem of catching the words here – all in English translation, except for a ‘tragic muse’ figure, sung by Michaela Bloom, who delivered her coloratura outbursts (shades of the Queen of the Night) in Italian; armed with a slightly edgy sound she made a remarkably fine job of them - one could have appreciated more fully the arcane twists of Gray’s thoughtful staging. Too much seemed elusive or fussy here, not helped by the hyperactivity of Serena Kay’s Composer and Alex Grove’s Dottore: for all the apt Harlequinade atmosphere, gestures seemed more hack than stock, and the cloaks were awful.

Yet musically Bampton served up a scintillating evening. From a serene overture onwards (Lo sposo deluso) the London Mozart Players under Matthew Coorey made sumptuous work of the buoyant score, with woodwind to be relished and a wonderful double-stopped double bass solo – a bit like the Dittersdorf concerto - for Richard Alsop. Kay and Grove are both fine singers, and she negotiated her middle range as adeptly as he did his two sweeping, characterful arias.

There were further delights: Vojtech Safarik sang the composer’s Father in a handsome, plainish but resonant bass. Ilona Domnich, a Bampton regular, positively blossomed as the Colombina figure, with a lovely bloom and roundedness to the voice; she and tenor Mark Chaundy, who sang with a gorgeous, wan sensitivity as the pantaloon lover Pedrolono, brought a striking pathos to the later stages. Marc Labonnette, especially in a late aria for Pantalone, revealed the full richness, power and flexibility of his magnificent, buccaneering baritone. The ensembles, three quartets and two brilliant trios, were terrific. Jewels indeed.

Roderic Dunnett