United Kingdom Stephen Storace, Gli Sposi Malcontenti: Soloists and Orchestra of Bampton Classical Opera / Anthony Kraus (conductor). Westonbirt School, Westonbirt, 29.8.2019. (CP)
Director/designer – Jeremy Gray
Costumes – Jess Iliff
Lighting – Ian Chandler
Movement director – Alicia Frost
Rosmondo – Robert Davies
Casimiro – Gavan Ring
Eginia – Jenny Stafford
Enrichetta – Aoife O’Sullivan
Artidoro – Arthur Bruce
Valente – Adam Tunnicliffe
Bettina – Caroline Kennedy
On the strength of this performance at Westonbirt School, Bampton Classical Opera’s 2019 production of Stephen Storace’s Gli Sposi Malcontenti deserves a full house at St John’s Smith Square on 17 September. With a full house, attendance at the four productions could exceed 1000 – a well-deserved achievement for a company with a fine reputation for creating pleasing surprises in the late summer months.
Following the success last year of Isouard’s Cendrillon (possible UK première), this year’s little-known 1785 composition received its première in London in 1985. Director, Jeremy Gray, was confident that no-one will have heard the work before. What chance someone in this audience could have been there? Of course there was! One well-travelled, very knowledgeable opera devotée was there and spoke highly of a memorable event! Only the vocal score remains from the 1985 version; Peter Jones has completed the orchestral score from a Dresden musical archive. Merging the two has presented Gray with new problems now overcome with aplomb.
The opening overture by the 22-piece orchestra positioned at the rear of the stage had a taste of Mozart about it but lacked the electrifying charge one associates with his work. For a second year running the conductor is unable to engage with his singers; this continues to be a frustration. With a slight loss of seating in the front rows, there could be a much improved connection between conductor and singers. Nevertheless, there was some fine wind playing; the strings were marginally less confident and less connected.
On stage, several of last year’s Cendrillon singers once again enjoyed this Storace buffa opera. Marylebone-born Storace studied with Mozart in Vienna shortly before Le nozze di Figaro was given its première. By good fortune, Storace’s sister, Nancy, appeared in the title role of Susanna in the première. By 1787 Storace had returned to London to continue writing comic operas for Drury Lane.
Bride and Gloom, as this Storace work is renamed by the Bampton Board of Directors, provides masses of opportunity for lugubrious contesting males to compete for several frolicking females. Holding the swashbuckling and frolicking in check is Bettina (Caroline Kennedy), servant to the unhappy couple Eginia (Jenny Stafford) and Casimiro (Gavan Ring). A discontented academic, Valente (Adam Tunnicliffe) causes mayhem throughout with deceitful plans to pursue the affections of Enrichetta (Aoife O’Sullivan) presently in love with Artidoro (Arthur Bruce).
Vulgar though he may be, Tunnicliffe is ferociously skilful in his efforts to secure his objective by means of disguise and other deceitful practices. He sings with passionate vigour; in Act II he features in a delightful duet with Bettina, during which she teases him with pretend compliance to his deceitful practices. Robert Davies (Rosmondo) is a domineering influence throughout; Gavan Ring (Casimiro) gives a faithful display of being the unloved husband of Eginia – not an easy task as she continues to bring profound pathos to her role. By the end of Act I there is anguish all round with all players on stage in a state of confusion enjoying an endless supply of cupcakes. Time for an interval tea!
The teatime detritus is cleared away, but Eginia’s melancholic mood continues as she fights to protect herself from Casimiro’s clutches.Her Recitative and Aria ‘Oh, heaven, dare I go, dare I remain?’ is assertively delivered. The scoundrel Valente continues to appear to the irritation of many but eventually decides to confess and to seek forgiveness for errors. Happiness returns in the final scene, Valente is remorseful and a degree of harmony breaks out.
Another inventive Bampton Classical Opera production moves to the completion of its run; the St John’s Smith Square performance to a full house will a very happy end to 2019’s efforts of the many involved in the production.
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