I Due Baroni Di Rocca Azzurra – 18 September

I due Baroni di Rocca Azzurra

Laura – Fiona Harrison
Sandra – Betsabee Haas
Franchetto – Andrew Kennedy
Don Totaro – Thomas Guthrie
Don Demofonte – Mark Saberton

Bampton Classical Opera Orchestra
David Owen Norris (harpsichord)

Reviewed by: John T. Hughes

Reviewed: 18 September, 2003
Venue: St. John’s, Smith Square, London

Don Totaro’s prospective wife is due to arrive, previously unseen by him or his uncle Don Demofonte, the barons of Cimarosa’s 1783 opera. Enter Franchetto pretending to be the ambassador of the expected lady, Laura. Instead, he replaces her portrait with one of his sister Sandra, who wishes to become a baroness. The barons are faced with two women. As it’s a comedy, all is sorted out and both the noblemen find a wife. I presume that’s a happy ending.

Buffo operas of the 18th-century carry many conventions, such as bass arias limited in vocal range and propelled at a quick pace. More variety is provided by duets and ensembles, but I due baroni has few arias with arching melodies such as Mozart was writing in the same period (Die Entführung had been premiered the previous year). Consequently, sameness prevails, though Laura’s “Alma grande” is a full-scale aria of high quality.

Bampton Classical Opera’s semi-staged presentation was sung in English. David Owen Norris conducted the period ensemble from the harpsichord, and Jeremy Gray produced. The translation included anachronistic references to Raymond Blanc, Gucci and the Hutton enquiry and such infelicitous phrases as “bonkers through and through” and the awful Americanism “listen up” rather than “listen”.

The predominantly young orchestra of 14 players entered into the spirit, if not always with the right notes. As Franchetto, the man responsible for the confusion (the portrait was a Picasso and so looked like no human being, Andrew Kennedy phrased his lines intelligently, his lyric tenor producing smooth tone. Thomas Guthrie (as Totaro, the younger baron) and Mark Saberton were contrasted vocally; Guthrie’s voice being lighter in colour and weight, Saberton’s richer, fuller. They worked well together, even if some of the antics that they performed were somewhat gauche and their wigs were unnecessary. All three men offered clear enunciation.

The ladies’ contributions were also enjoyable. The tall, very slim Fiona Harrison was at least six inches taller than Betsabee Haas, which in itself created an amusing picture. Haas had a warm, almost mezzo-ish edge to her tone and sang her aria, “Di scherma io son maestra”, with attractive freshness. She is also a lively, twinkling performer on stage. Laura is the more virtuosic role, demanding a soprano who can encompass scales and leaps with confidence, and Fiona Harrison was well suited to her assignment. “Alma grande”, the most technically involved aria in the opera and one that would not be out of place in a Mozart work, displayed her flexible voice.

At one point, as Sandra, in her guise as a fortune-teller, sings, “I will read the stars”, David Owen Norris added on the harpsichord a snatch of “Twinkle, twinkle, little star”. Smile-provoking. It was just one moment in a pleasant evening.

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