Top-drawer Mozart, served up with panache

Opera Now, January 2007

One of the most rewarding aspects of Bampton’s recent productions has been the slick quality of the orchestral playing under a series of conductors – Edward Gardner, Alexander Briger, Murray Hipkin - who have gone on to achieve great things elsewhere. Bampton’s use of the London Mozart Players for its latest foray into rare 18 th Century Opera at both Westonbirt School and St. John’s Smith Square provides yet more evidence, after this summer’s Taming of the Shrew, that this prodigiously talented company is going from strength to strength.

True, no indoor venue can quite match the atmosphere of an Oxfordshire or Gloucestershire garden setting. However Bampton’s September appearances at St. John’s have become a welcome and regular autumn feature. A few seasons back they served up a brilliantly honed evening of rare Mozart, embracing the music from The Cairo Goose and The Deluded Husband, both 1780s operas which Mozart abandoned - but whose musical quality is top-notch, the surviving arias and ensembles like precious lost gems.

Now they have turned to another valuable Mozartian gem, The Jewel Box, a witty harlequinade, deftly pieced together by Paul Griffiths, which embraces not just music from those two discarded operas, but arias which Mozart supplied for operas by lesser mortals – Galuppi, Picinni et al.

Bampton always seems blessed with a bumper cast of talented singers. All three of Mozart’s quartets (including one for a Bianchi opera) impressed, including one from Lo sposo deluso heard right at the start. At its completion the action intensifies, as the various Harlequinade characters frantically hunt for a ‘composer’ (Serena Kay), whose own artistic yearnings are projected onto the ‘sublime’, semi-abstract person of a coloratura soprano (Michaela Bloom). Both of these are spirited young singers, and Bloom made a handsome job of the difficult coloratura role for the inscrutable ‘muse’.

Here and there I was puzzled and mystified by the action, as so easily happens when teasing opera materialises in English without surtitles. Some of the wittier ironies proved elusive. But what made the evening shine was the quality of the other voices: a touching, wistful performance from tenor Mark Chaundy as the hapless lovesick Pedrolino; plenty of boisterousness but also finessed singing from the gutsy Pantalone, Marc Labonette; and a glorious blossoming from Ilona Domnich in the tender arias of Colombina. Thanks to Bampton’s glowing delivery, there was no doubting, either, the quality of this music which Griffiths has so cannily conserved: this was top-drawer Mozart, served up with panache.

Roderic Dunnett