from Opera Now

Opera Now

With Bampton you have to go with the flow. The company has its own style - quirky, witty, zestful, even slightly silly – which, when it works, endows late 18th opera with rapid momentum, showing a constant empathy with its subject.

Director/co-translator Jeremy Gray and producer/translator Gilly French make a virtue of rare repertoire : Storace (Gli Equivoci), Mozart-Henneberg (The Philosopher’s Stone), Paisiello (Nina), Salieri (Falstaff) and Gazzaniga (Don Giovanni) have all had the Bampton treatment. It has served them well.

This season Haydn’s La vera costanza (1778-9) was staged in Bampton’s Oxfordshire Garden venue. Preempting that, a rough-and-ready staging of L’Infedelta delusa delighted Haydn aficianados by providing a cheeky climax to this year’s English Haydn Festival at rural Bridgnorth.

Not all seemed ideal. Makeshift staging, over-raised for sound and sightlines, lent a ragged look dispelled by neither set nor costumes (slovenly hangings, gamma-standard props) : all areas Bampton, despite forgivable restricted budget, must attack seriously in order to be taken seriously itself. Some looked like Garden Opera cast-offs; an artist’s eye seemed absent.

But Bampton invariably scores with musical verve and quick-fire delivery – here admirably led by a new conductor, Jason Lai, the BBC Philharmonic’s assistant (taking over from the Halle’s Edward Gardner) – plus here, a second half staging that soared above seedy beginnings.

Rocky horns marred the opening music; yet even they came good latterly. String and oboe tone was admirable, whether in a lovely Handelian minuet, or rising chromatically through Filip’s aria (a seasoned, grumpy old pater from David Hillman).

The cast had some real plums : Nicholas Merryweather (a gloriously gloomy Bardolph in Salieri and blistering as Storace’s Dr.Pinch) set the ball rolling as the heroine’s streetwise brother, vivid in rollicking siblings’ duet. If neither girl galvanised initially, tenor Nathan Vale’s thinly acted, two-timing Nencio stopped the audience in its tracks with his first aria, where Haydn slows the action (and quickens hearts) to perfection. An early quartet and later quintet (with stunning slow diminuendo), proved pure enchantment.

The real joy was Sinead Pratschke’s Vespina, in a set of Act II disguises designed to have Esterhazy’s audience hooting. A Harry Potter in drag (shades of Despina), then rustic know-it-all lad in hostelry mood, plus accented German servant, Pratschke’s comedy rivalled Mark Wilde’s Texan pilot and Amanda Pitt’s German spy-meets-French Resistance in last year’s side-splitting Falstaff. Abetted by ludicrous blue feather pen, hee-hawing horns, Vale pirriping “How delightful, how delicious” plus Lai’s perceptive Haydn pacing, she turned the latter half into sheer delight.