Rich Operatic Variety at Buxton Festival in 2014: Preview

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If the North of England had consciously wanted to get on the emerging festival scene, rather than leaving it to the plush country houses of the south, it seems today that it could scarcely have chosen a better venue than Buxton for a base. Of course it didn’t happen like that. The Buxton of forty years ago was hardly ideal. As a town it was faded and suffering from ill-conceived architectural developments whilst it grander parts were in desperate need of attention. It was mainly known as a centre of medical excellence in the field of orthopaedics and rheumatology in the wonderfully located Devonshire Hospital whose appearance and history told a tale of grander times. The name Devonshire, and its associations, in the latter decades of the nineteenth century were of opulence and significant contribution to science, while Buxton and its spa basked in the shadow of the Duke of Devonshire’s seat at Chatsworth and its magnificent house, a must for all visitors.

Buxton is located over one thousand feet up in what is known as the High Peak. Its surrounding moorland is not as bleak or as unpopulated as Exmoor or Dartmoor. Rather it bears the marks of earlier industrial activities and centres. Despite this, the High Peak can appear as wild and lonely as anywhere in England, particularly in the depths of a wet winter such as we have just had, or even worse in harsh winters when the town can be cut off by road for days by snow. Villages with houses and premises of local stone, either grit stone from the Dark Peak or paler limestone from the White Peak, are scattered through its body. Natural features such as great and enchanting caverns mingle with man made lakes created to fuel local industry. In Roman times Buxton was a spa whose remains became lost but not forgotten. The magic of its waters as a cure drew the ill fated but rheumatic Mary Queen of Scots on temporary release from her imprisonment at Chatsworth. However, it was not until the late 18th century that the 5th Duke of Devonshire, casting envious eyes on the success of Bath, began to build his own spa town below the main central hill and including its elegant crescent. The splendid hill top building was added in 1789 as stables with the large unsupported dome added in 1881 when it had become a hospital specialising in rheumatic diseases. It is now part of the University of Derby. The elegant curved Crescent, long in decay, has slowly emerged from its scaffolds and refurbishment to rival Bath, as Devonshire intended,. Meanwhile, the Pavilion Gardens have already benefited from much restoration and provide an excellent opportunity for relaxation in the July sun or a stroll among the exotic indoor garden or by the lake.

What Bath does not have is a theatre to match that of Buxton. What is more it is a theatre designed by Frank Matcham whose elegance of design conception is world-renowned. The Buxton Festival, which opened on 30th July 1979, is focussed on that magnificent building, now refurbished as the pictures show, to it former Edwardian glory. The early Buxton Festivals were the domain of opera and drama. After various trials along the way the Festival has now settled into a pattern of music, with significant opera, along with what is titled Literary Series which encompasses talks and interviews by authors, broadcasters, politicians and the like. Introduced by former politician and Chair of the Festival Roy Hattersley in 2000, these, along with the opera and recital contributions have become the mainstay of the event. The 2010 programme which runs this year from July 11th to 27th can be accessed in full at

 Seen and Heard will be reviewing the opening Gala Concert and the first three operas presented. Also worthy of note to newcomers is the pre-performance talks given by those involved in the productions being present.

Opening Gala Concert. July. 11th at 7.15pm.

With Festival Music Director Stephen Barlow on the rostrum and featuring international husband and wife duo of dramatic soprano Susan Bullock and heldentenor Richard Berkely-Steele, some great Wagner is guaranteed. Both have featured in the great German composer’s music at the leading opera addresses around the world. Any thoughts of rather heavy operatic fare will be leavened with the inclusion of works by Johann Strauss and Lehar.

 Antonin Dvorák (1841–1904): The Jacobin. Sung in English, in a translation by Rodney Blumer conducted by Festival musical director Stephen Barlow with stage direction by Stephen Unwin with designer Paul Willis.

July 12th at 7.15pm andrepeatedon July 15th, 18th and 24th with a matinee performance on Sunday 26th.
Cout Harasova – Matthew Best
Bohuš – Nicholas LCester
Adolf – James McOran-Campbell
Julie – Anne Sophie Duprels
Philip – Nicholas Folwell
Jiří – Matthew Newlin
Benda – Bonaventura Bottone
Terinka – Anna Patalong

In this Buxton Festival productionof Dvorak’s open-hearted and lyrical opera in three acts, a young Bohemian nobleman and his wife return from Paris to seek reconciliation reconcile with his estranged father and regain his inheritance, only to become caught up in the plots of his father’s staff and the romantic entanglements of the local villagers.

July 13th at £3.30pm and  again on Wednesday 16, Saturday 19, Tuesday 22, Friday 25 July 7.15pm

Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714–87): Orfeo ed Eurydice. Sung in English.

July 13th at £3.30pm and  again on Wednesday 16, Saturday 19, Tuesday 22, Friday 25 July 7.15pm
Orfeo – Michael Chance
Euridice – Barbara Bargnesi
Amore – Daisy Brown
Northern Chamber Orchestra
Conductor, Stuart Stratford.
Director, Stephen Medcalf. Designer, Frances O’Connor. Lighting Designer. Malcolm Rippeth
Choreographer & Assistant Director, Paula O’Reilly

Gluck’s version of the classical myth of Orpheus and his quest to return his dead wife Euridice from the Underworld is a milestone both in Gluck’s work and in the history of opera, being the first of his so called reform operas which sought to replace the overly formalised and complicated plots and music of opera seria with real emotions and drama.

Gioachimo Rossini (1792–1868): Otello. Concert performances

Thursday 17 July 7.15pm, Sunday 20 July 3.30pm, Saturday 26 July 7.15pm.
Otello – Sara Fulgoni
Rodrigo – Alessandro Luciano
Desdemona – Kate Ladner
Iago – Nicky Spence
Elmiro – Henry Waddington
Emilia – Carolyn Dobbin
Lucio – Leonel Pinheiro
Doge – Mikael Onelius
Gondoliere – Andrew Brown
Conductor, Stephen Barlow

Buxton Festival presents a concert performance of Rossini’s first opera seria following his appointment as Music director of the Royal Theatres of Naples at the young age of twenty-three. Premiered on December 4th 1816 his version of Shakespeare’s tragedy of jealousy is notable for its original and highly sympathetic portrayal of the character of Desdemona and its superb third act. Originally sung by the formidable coloratura tenor Andrea Nozzari, the title role will be sung by mezzo Sara Fulgoni an alumnus of the RNCM, who has sung at the major opera houses of the world. The original Desdemona was Isobella Colbran, later Rossini’s mistress and then wife, she was one of the greatest singers of the day. In this the roll is takenby Kate Ladner whilst Nicky Spence and Alessandro Luciano take the other two roles originally written for the coloratura tenors the impresario have contracted for the season.

Robert J Farr

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