Tuesday 18 February 2014

The Lottery - ballad opera revived

Henry Fielding
Henry Fielding
Henry Fielding (1707 - 1754) is best known today as a the author of the novel Tom Jones but Fielding also wrote 11 ballad operas. Ballad opera was the most popular form of musical entertainment in 18th century England, mixing witty, satirical and subversive plots with popular music lifted from operas, pantomimes and ballads. Fielding's ballad opera The Lottery is being given its modern premiere on 28 February 2014 by Bury Court Opera, with L'Avventura London under music director Zak Ozmo and stage director Harry Fehr.

The Lottery was a smash hit in its day and when the period instrument group L'Avventura London put on a concert performance of music from ballad operas in 2013, it was received enthusiastically. The Lottery tells the tale of a beautiful but foolish country girl who is seduced by the bright lights of London, defrauded by a crooked stockbroker and taken in by a confidence trickster. The subject was probably close to Fielding's heart as his family were almost bankrupted by a dishonest stock-broker.

Hogarth's frontispiece to Fielding's The Tragedy of Tragedies
Hogarth's frontispiece to
The Tragedy of Tragedies

Like many other ballad operas, the music was never published in score so Zak Ozmo has reconstructed and arranged the music for The Lottery for his ensemble L'Avventura London. (The ensemble made an appearance at last year's Brighton Early Music Festival, see my review). The cast includes Stephanie Corley as Chloe, with Stuart Laing, Nick Merryweather and Stefan East. The director is Harry Fehr who was a member of Covent Garden's Jette Parker Young Artists Programme. Fehr directed the production of Mozart's La finta giardiniera at the Buxton Festival last year (see my review).

Perhaps because of its mongrel background, mixing new plots with existing music, ballad opera does not get much of a look-in nowadays with the exception perhaps of The Beggars Opera. But it was a lively and popular form, something of a staple for many London theatres in the 18th century. Ballad operas were the staple of the great Handelian tenor John Beard (for whom Handel wrote the title roles in Samson and Jephtha). Beard performed the role of Lovemore in The Lottery at Drury Lane in 1738 and the piece would feature regularly in Beard's performances throughout his career.

So it is highly welcome that Bury Court Opera and L'Avventura London are giving us a prime example. The Lottery is being performed at Bury Court Opera, on the Hampshire/Surrey borders, on 28 February and 2 March. They are also presenting Purcell's The Fairy Queen in a production directed by Julia Burbach and with the Southbank Sinfonia (22 Feb, 26 Feb, 1 March).

Further information from the Bury Court Opera website.  

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