The 2012 Buxton Festival has now been published and quite a programme it is too. 2012 is a year of changes, it is Stephen Barlow's first year as Artistic Director and Glyn Foley's last as CEO, having been in post for 14 years.
There are 8 operas being performed. The Festival's own productions of Strauss's Intermezzo, Handel's Jephtha plus Sibelius's The Maiden in the Tower and Rimsky Korsakov's Kashchei the Immortal in a double bill. The Armonico Consort are presenting their Handel based piece Too Hot to Handel, La Serenissima give us Vivaldi's L'Olympiade and Bampton Classical Opera perform The Marriage of Figaro, not Mozart's but the one by Marcos Portugal. Opera Northern Ireland finish off with The Turn of The Screw.
For some reason, Richard Strauss's comedy in two acts does not come to the British stage very often. I missed Scottish Opera's outing of Intermezzo, but prior to that I think the work was last performed at Glyndebourne. I saw the production there with Felicity Lott as Christine Storch. Now, at Buxton we have Janis Kelly as Christine with Stephen Gadd as Robert. A strong cast includes Andrew Kennedy, Jonathan Best, Njabulo Madlala and Robert Poulton. Stephen Barlow conducts and Stephen Unwin directs.Very sensibly the work is being performed in Andrew Porter's English translation.
If Intermezzo is an occasional visitor to UK opera houses, then the operas in Buxton's double bill are extreme rarities. Rimsky Korsakov's Kashchei the Immortal is a terrific piece; perhaps the fact that is is only in one act prevents people from taking it up. The story is a fairytale one and the title role is the same character as the villain in Stravinsky's The Firebird. The Maiden in the Tower was Sibelius's only completed opera and he didn't think too highly of it, but then composers are hardly ever the best judge of their work. Again it is fairy tale based and like the Rimsky Korsakov, it involves a young woman imprisoned by a baddie.
The two operas are being directed by Stephen Lawless, making a relatively rare appearance in this country. The cast of The Maiden in the Tower (Kate Ladner, Emma Selway, Richard Berkeley-Steel and William Dazeley) all reappear in Kashchei the Immortal with the addition of Robert Poulton, so the two pieces should be interestingly coherent. Both are being sung in new translations by Rodney Blumer.
Katie Mitchell's production of Jephtha, which was performed by ENO and WNO, is still rather long in the memory, so Frederic Wake-Walker is something of a brave soul to essay a new production. He has a strong cast, James Gilchrist as Jephtha, Susan Bickley as Storge, Gillian Keith as Iphis, Jonathan Best as Zebul, William Purefuy as Hamor, with Harry Christophers conducting the orchestra and chorus of the Sixteen. Of course, Jephtha isn't an opera but a dramatic oratorio and producers have their work cut out to make the drama work when presented with one of Handel's substantial choruses. So I await the new production with interest.
The Armonico Consort are bringing a new production, Too Hot to Handel based on music from Serse, Giulio Cesare, Rinaldo and Orlando. A modern day pasticcio, it is a good way to introduce Handel's operatic music to opera goers for whom the full Italian operas are a little to long and complex. It stars Yvette Bonner and William Towers, is directed by Emma Rivlin who co-created the piece with Towers. Christopher Monks conducts. It should be a fascinating 2 hours, charting the highs and lows of a couple's relationship.
Vivaldi's L'Olimpiade is getting quite a few outings this year as are other settings of Metastasio's libretto. La Serenissima are performing the piece in a production by Richard Williams. The cast includes Stephen Gadd (taking time out from his Straussian duties), Louise Poole and Mhairi Lawson. Musical Director Adrian Chandler has prepared the edition used from Vivaldi's autograph. I have to confess that I have yet to see a full staged Vivaldi opera, so far having only had concert performances. So I am interested to find out if La Serenissima can convert me, having rather found Vivaldi very high on musical felicity and toe-tapping tunes but a bit low on real drama.
Marco Portugal's Marriage of Figaro was written eight years after Mozart's death; the libretto is based on Beaumarchais. At that period it was quite common for composers to reuse librettos written for earlier pieces, so it is perhaps more surprising that we don't have more Beaumarchais based operas. The production marks Portugal's 250th anniversary; Portugal was a Portuguese composer (there's a surprise) who studied in his native Lisbon but was sponsored to spend an extended period in Italy.
The Marriage of Figaro was written for Venice in 1799 and Bampton Classical Opera presented the UK premiere of the piece in 2010.
Oliver Mears directs a strong young cast in Opera Northern Ireland's The Turn of the Screw, with Fiona Murphy as the Governess, Andrew Tortise as Peter Quint, Giselle Allen as Miss Jessel and Yvonne Howard as Mrs Grose. The festival is also featuring a Community Musical, James and The Giant Peach with music and lyrics by Herbert Chappell. It will be performed by students from 3 local schools, the Mad Hatters Youth Choir and dancers from Deda.
But there is more to the festival than just opera. Each evening at 6.15 there is a free talk, with Stephen Barlow and guests introducing one of the operas. Then there is the Literary Series, with over 30 events ranging from Peter Conrad talking about his book Verdi and/Or Wagner to a debate about Orwell and Kipling, to John Guy on his new book about Thomas Becket.
Plus an admirable series of concerts involving artists such as Gillian Keith, Joan Rogers and Claire Rutter (each in recital), a programme about the relationship between Strauss and his wife with Janis Kelly and Michael Pennington, a recital by the two most recent Ferrier Award winners Njabulo Madlala (who sings in Intermezzo) and Kitty Whately (who recently had some success as Rosina for ETO). The Sacconi Quartet make two appearances and their programmes include Paul Patterson's 2nd Quartet and a one-movement quartet from Sibelius. The members of the Festival company, who understudy all the main roles in the Festival operas, get a chance to shine in the Opera Scenes. All in all, a musical programme that is rich enough to be a festival in its own right and full of interesting little side-lights on the main events.
Further information from Buxton Festival's website.