Friday, March 23, 2012



Andrew Staples is a newly risen star in the operatic world who has proved his outstanding tenor with Das Lied von der Erde directed by Sir Simon Rattle and the title role in Candide in the Barbican. But he is also a wizard opera director; on 17 March he was in charge of the fourth and last performance of Rossini's second most often performed comedy-opera La Cenerentola, sung in Italian. The venue was Barn Court in remote Hampshire near Farnham, the barn seats 140, has an inverted V roof, excellent acoustics. Last year it was Don Giovanni; the object of Bury Court is to give opportunity to young promising artists. Staples also did the casting and played ducks and drakes with the surtitles bringing wittily and inoffensively the 1817 opera into our century. The cast had no weakness, all acted well as well as coping with Rossini "s florid coloratura roulades and runs.

The sound was not particularly Italianate but the musical style was right. Cenerentola is predominantly an ensemble opera, reaching its climax near the end with a sextet in which each of the principals sings the tune and then breaks into variations of the most delightful and virtuosic species, it is a masterpiece, Gioachino in full flight with showers of vocal fireworks. The Prince and his valet Dandini impersonate each other when they come to Cinderella's house, confusing her family, and sometimes the audience. Dandini was not only more princely but a head taller. A minor point and of course tenors who can scale the heights, in both senses, are not easy to come by. Nicholas Darmanin sang his aria heroically and suitably highly, Dandini, John Mc Kenzie was very good, impressive and suave.

But what of the heroine, Cinders? Rossini wrote the part for a contralto but Conchita Supervia ( I heard her once sing the part ) and then Kathleen Ferrier were the last of the breed,it seems. So it is usually a mezzo-soprano these days, like Stephanie Lewis who took the part at Bury, good, almost a show-stopper. The star of the show was her wicked father, Don Magnifico, David Woloszko, plenty of en bon point, some charm and a magnificent voice and stage sense. These days the custom is for what our pantomines call the Ugly Sisters to be pretty as here they were; Clorinda /Eliana Pretorian was good in the duets and showed a powerful voice when it came to her aria. Tisbe/Belinda Williams in the second of the two acts developed into a comedian of the first class, one couldn't take ones eyes off her, every mime and gesture was so funny, a genuine droll.

There was but a single set, a diner-cum-bar with Cinders as barmaid and drudge; so we had no carriage or transformation scenes. Both the set and the costumes by William Reynolds were brilliant. The overture's exquisite opening clarinet solo was cut. Simon Over conducted the excellent Southbank Sinfonia, the 18 players raised up behind the stage.

There was also a six-men singing chorus, black hats, sometimes joined by girls who only danced; they were really part of the show, so well directed.

The whole performance was delightful and the audience happy and jolly. Rossini might have regretted the lack of garlic and chianti in the singing but would have been content, I think, with the superior musical style of the performance. The surtitles might have sometimes foxed him, especially "if we are not careful we may end up in the Betty Ford clinic".

I have seen many country-house opera productions recently but this, by a long way, topped the lot. More power to Bury Court Opera's future, especially if stapled to Andrew.

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