Tuesday, 24 July 2012

La pazza giornata

After a Sunday of clearing-up at the Deanery, and stowing of set and props, it was back on the road for our scenery van for our final trip to Buxton.  Our ‘other’ cast, under the direction of conductor Robin Newton and revival director Nicola Samer, performed magnificently.  It’s sad to realise this is probably the last-ever performance of our Marcos Portugal Figaro – and one wonders when it will next be performed at all.  Let’s hope that David Cranmer, who edited the manuscripts for us in Lisbon, can achieve further productions of this fascinating and delightfully light-hearted take on the Beaumarchais play.  The Buxton audience clearly loved it and the laughter was loud and long – especially for Figaro’s antics building a bed delivered from Ikea Sevilla and for Gilly’s classic rhyming lines about relativity when Figaro pretends that he had jumped from the window.  The hard work put in by Anthony Hall in building the set was amply repaid by its appearance on stage under the sensitive lighting of John Bishop.  We’re so pleased the wonderful Buxton Festival had the vision to take this so lovely opera.

Summer at last

We seem to have emerged the other side unscathed!  After weeks of unsettled weather, the final shower came,  precisely as forecast,  mid-afternoon on Friday 20th July, and by the evening performance we had complete calm and tranquillity in the Deanery Garden, except for the swifts furiously circling around.  Saturday was even better with clear blue skies, and there was a sense of immense gratitude from the audience the moment they came through the gates that at last summer had arrived .  Several commented that they had had miserable evenings at Glyndebourne, Garsington and Grange Park and so they seemed determined to enjoy the special Bampton  experience.   Both performances were wonderful – the double-bill had proved a challenge, but all the singers brought the two operas alive with confidence and skill, with glorious singing and dynamic acting.  Mike Wareham’s revolving set worked a treat, taking us from the run-down  French18th century workshop of Blaise, to Don Lopez’s gaudy 1930s Spanish villa , and finally to the grotto in his garden at night.  Many in the audience, perhaps primed by the pre-performance talks, were fascinated by the several premonitions of Figaro to be found in L’amant jaloux  and the garden finale cast its particular magic in the open-air setting, beautifully lit by Ian Chandler.   We had enjoyed a special treat in the afternoon too, when four members of the orchestra gave a delightful concert of string quartets by Puccini, Humperdinck, Wagner and Grétry in the very special historic setting of Cote Baptist Chapel.  A wonderful weekend.   Thank you especially to our hosts at the deanery and to our many many kind volunteers who do so many essential jobs before and at the performances.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Stress and insomnia

What a week it’s been – with The Marriage of Figaro opening at the Buxton Festival, followed a few days later by our double-bill of Philidor and Grétry at Bampton,  the last few days have been packed with everything except sleep.  Our scenery van, steered by Anthony Hall, who has also been our production manager for Figaro, has been up and down the country, and Fiona Hodges and our costumes have done  the same.  It gave us – and it appears, our audiences - much delight to rediscover Figaro through the music of Marcos Portugal ,and our wonderful cast of Bampton regulars gave spirited and committed performances.  It’s amazing how much can develop through a break away from a piece – coming back to this work after two years has given it a freshness and yet maturity which has strengthened it no end, thanks also to the fine work done in rehearsal by the revival director Nicola Samer.  We are much looking forward to Monday’s performance.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

In Tune

As always in the past, we thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the BBC yesterday and our live broadcast  in interview with Suzy Klein on Radio 3 In Tune – you can hear it (including extracts from Grétry’s L’amant jaloux) for up to a week via the Radio 3 website (follow the link here:  BBC Radio 3 'In Tune' Bampton.   The photograph taken in the Radio 3 Studio are Gilly French, Andrew Griffiths (conductor),  Paul Wingfield (pianist and birthday boy yesterday!),  our singers Oliver Mercer,  Robert Anthony Gardiner,  Aoife O’Sullivan, and finally Jeremy Gray.  

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

The pressure builds....

Everyone is now extraordinarily busy with simultaneous rehearsals in different London venues – this week there have been Figaro rehearsals in Westminster and Grétry/Philidor rehearsals up the road in Marylebone.  The old hands are refreshing their memories from two years ago as they recreate Portugal’s Marriage of Figaro; our new singers are settling into the lively characters of the French double-bill.   It’s been especially gratifying to hear Philidor’s Blaise le savetier (which is unrecorded) for the first time, with its wonderfully characterised and energetic ensembles.  Emails and texts are flying everywhere, dealing with theatre get-in times, props, paints, colours and costumes.  In the photo, Bampton scenic builder Mike Wareham enjoys part of the wardrobe he's constructing for the double-bill.  Last minute revisions have been made to our programme booklet, now sent to the printers.  Last week we gave a couple of press interviews, and tomorrow is our live appearance on BBC Radio 3’s In Tune, at about 4.35pm.  Barely time to sleep, it seems….

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Pleasure and Virtue

Two performances of Handel’s Choice of Hercules given this weekend in two very different venues with diametrically opposite acoustics.   The beautiful Baroque Library (formerly All Saints’ Church) at Lincoln College, Oxford made an appropriately period setting, and the architecture responded wonderfully to the wizardry of Ian Chandler’s colourfully lighting: the cherubs over the former altar looking as though they were streaked with brilliant coloured paint – green, red and blue.  We were given the warm est welcome and reception at the College.  Sadly Saturday’s country-house performance was timed with  the worst ‘midsummer’ weather imaginable, and with several hours of waiting around in a very cold marquee, it was not the most enjoyable performance for the musicians, “Yet can I hear that dulcet lay” was accompanied by a monsoon thundering on the marquee roof.  Nevertheless the music won the day, and we are grateful for both invitations to perform this glorious work.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Herculean labours

Suddenly we’re transported back to the earlier 18th century as we revive our Choice of Hercules (Handel) which we performed at the Holywell Music Room and elsewhere last autumn and winter.  With a new singer, Chris Lowrey, in the title role, we’re rehearsing  this evening in the slightly bizarre setting of a local hall in Westminster amidst bunting and children’s buggies.  Our two performances this weekend are again in and near Oxford: both are invitation events.  I’m sitting in the back of the rehearsal, enjoying the fact that I’m not involved in directing for once, and can leave that to John Arthur: and meanwhile I’m trying to work out the prop list for the French double-bill.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Figaro moves on apace

In the past two weeks, set construction for Figaro for Buxton has moved on considerably and is now very near completion (the photograph shows Act 1, scene 2, the Countess's room with its window ready for Cherubino's jump for freedom).   Anthony, Jeremy and Felicity have been spending long hours in Andrew’s farm barn (accompanied by the relentless gnawing of rats which, fortunately, have kept themselves out of sight – all the fun of the farm!), and work will be completed in the next couple of days before the barn is returned to its rightful agricultural use.  Besides, there’s the set for Blaise and  L’amant jaloux to get on with -  time is short!

The July copy of Opera magazine has just come through the letter-box, and we’re thrilled by the full feature article by Fiona Maddocks marking our twentieth season of opera-making.  With attractive photographs of our venues and our audiences at Bampton and Westonbirt, and of lively moments from our productions of Gluck’s Le cinesi and Haydn’s Le pescatrici,  it makes a strong case for our uniqueness, enterprise and artistic standards.   

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Life seems to have been both too frantic and too fraught to manage blogging recently,  but  now with a week ahead mixing rural frolics in Bampton (the annual Morris Dancing festival and of course the Jubilee) with scenery painting may permit a few postings.  Today the bunting around the village square is miserably bedraggled as the rain pours down (did anyone tell the Almighty that there’s a hosepipe ban?), but Anthony Hall and I were dry and sheltered  in the capacious barn of Andrew Hichens (you’ll know Andrew if you’ve bought  tickets from us on the phone) as we worked on the rebuild of the set of The Marriage of Figaro in readiness for our Buxton Festival performances in July.  This is, of course, the opera by Marcos Portugal, whose 250th birthday is being celebrated at Buxton this year with our three performances.  The set from our 2010 production needs something of a facelift and revamp to make it suitable for the Buxton Opera House, and we are trying to get it finished ahead of work on the set for the Philidor/Grétry double bill.  The photos show work-in-progress on the Countess's bed-chamber, and panels for the all-important wardrobe.

It always helps coming early in the alphabet, and the June edition of Opera Now which has just arrived through the letter-box happily lists us in the Worldwide Events Guide  between Aix-en-Provence and Bayreuth.   It’s nice to read that the ‘husband-and-wife team’ running Bampton is described as ‘indefatigable’ (well, you have to be when, on the 3rd June it’s necessary to light a log-fire at home in order to stay warm!) but, more importantly, that Bampton ‘continually surprises its audiences, breathing fresh life into little-known operas’.   We certainly hope that many will be surprised by our little-known offerings this summer.  

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Welcome to the new blog for Bampton Classical Opera's 2012 season - our twentieth at Bampton itself since we began with Handel's Acis and Galatea in July 1993. In those days we were 'Bampton Summer Opera', changing our name after a few years when we began performing at other seasons as well. This change also reflected our increasing and now much-respected, dedication to the classical period, especially the second half of the eighteenth-century. Since then we have certainly put Bampton on the operatic map - we even appear this year in the new Rough Guide to the Cotswolds. Following in our remarkable tradition of performing rarities otherwise unheard, this summer we come for the first time to the remarkably fertile genre of the French opéra-comique - although, as always, we are busily working on translations of the libretti into English. We'll be performing at our usual venues - the Deanery Garden at Bampton in Oxfordshire, Westonbirt School in Gloucestershire, and St John's Smith Square London. You'll get two operas for the price of one - Philidor's romp, Blaise le savetier (which we're calling Blaise and Blaisine) and Grétry's L'amant jaloux (The jealous Lover). Both contain the most wonderful music, driven by ensembles well suited to the strengths of our casting and company. Conveniently, they also both require a large wardrobe..... And whilst we're working on those, we'll also be reviving Marcos Portugal's The Marriage of Figaro for our fourth invitation to the glorious Buxton Festival. It's Portugal's 250th birthday on Saturday 24th March, and we're delighted to be able to give a wider audience the chance of experiencing this alternative Figaro, which we first performed in 2010.