Thursday, August 26, 2010

Buxton Festival

Richard Strauss once said that he couldn't write about Mozart; he could only worship him but in 1931 he made an edition of one of his god's forgotten operas no doubt thinking he was giving it the kiss of life. Was it the opposite? It took many years before Idomeneo began to be revived and performed (notably at Glyndebourne in 1951).

Strauss wasn't above trying to teach him a lesson or two, he added another pair of horns and substituted a concert aria with violin solo, made cuts, moved things around, composed a rather grumpy interlude, added a quote from his Egyptian Helen of Troy when she is mentioned in the third act and gave the work a new finale ensemble.
An interesting exercise, fascinating for Strauss disciples but on the whole I think most of the audience would have been glad if Strauss had not bothered.

As Idamante, Victoria Simmonds was fine but the singing in general was valiant rather than persuasive. Artistic Director Andrew Greenwood directed intelligently, local chorus good, ditto Northern Chamber Orchestra.

Buxton Festival is on a high, interesting programmes, including literary talks by Roy Hattersley, Deborah Devonshire (the Dowager Duchess) with politician David Blunkett (with black dog) and there were interesting operas (the aforementioned Idomeneo and Luisa Miller, to be mentioned later) and many interesting recitals including some of the opera singers, amungst which I caught a thrilling and satisfying piano hour of Debussy played by Pascal Rogé.

He played half a dozen of the more popular Preludes, better performances of which I don't hope to hear unless I get up-graded to the Pearly Portals, and with his wife played, the Petite Suite and shipped us into La Mer, Debussy's own arrangement. This bought tears to my eyes, it was so exciting and heart-warming – they played with zest and style.

Frank Matcham's Opera House is a little jewel, over a 100 years old , a tiny building designed by an architect who never managed to pass his exams but never the less built nearly a 100 theatres (including the London Coliseum).

Nobody seemed to enjoy Peter Cornelius 'The Barber of Baghdad’, pity because it was an interesting choice but it obviously misfired. But Luisa Miller pleased, written in 1849by Verdi, a Sturm und Drang situation with fatuous lines in the libretto that cannot be taken seriously, indeed, director Stephen Metcalf opted for an ironic tongue-in-cheek production, that is until the tragic end. Tenor and soprano are matched against two villains, one of whom is actually called Worm (Wurm). The basis of the plot is Schiller's play Kabale und Liebe which must surely be several cuts above Commerano’s slack libretto. But, in his late 30's, it suited Verdi down to the melodramatic ground, primitive emotions, no hanging about, good tunes and opportunities for singers, including the chorus, Susan Glanville relished and fitted the title role, bel canto with coloratura. John Bellemer reached effortlessly for his high notes and sang his formidable part with guts and style, Luisa's father has a good baritone part which David Kempston sang eloquently. Worm and his wicked boss, the count, added well to the villainy.

Buxton is said to be the highest town in England and it has high ideals for its Festival. It’s a gracious and elegant place.

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