Opera Brava at the Bibury Court Hotel

La traviata – Brindisi
Don Giovanni – Là ci darem la mano
La favorita – O, mio Fernando
The Pearl Fishers – Au fond du temple saint
The Barber of Seville – La Calunnia
Lakmé – Dôme épais, le jasmine
Turandot – Nessun dorma
R Strauss
Der Rosenkavalier – Hab’ mir’s gelobt
A Medley of Gilbert & Sullivan
Der Schauspieldirektor, K486

Opera Brava:
Amanda Buckland & Catrine Kirkman (sopranos)
Janet Shell (mezzo-soprano)
Daniel Meades & John Lofthouse (tenors)
Mark Beesley (bass)

Jeremy Silver – Music Director/piano
Bronek Pomorski – Director

Reviewed by: Arnold Jarvist

Reviewed: 26 July, 2008
Venue: Bibury Court Hotel, Bibury, Gloucestershire

The rear of the Bibury Court Hotel, GloucestershireThere are few finer pleasures on a glorious summer evening than picnicking in beautiful country surroundings with good-quality opera. Touring company Opera Brava offers lively outdoor productions amid the genial backdrop of English stately homes – an especially welcome opportunity if you find the indoor venues of Glyndebourne or Grange Park too stuffy, or their ambience off-puttingly rarefied.

Given in the picturesque grounds of the Bibury Court Hotel, in the heart of idyllic Cotswold country (I kept expecting Bertie Wooster or Miss Marple to emerge from the grand Tudor house), Opera Brava’s “Candlelit Gala” and Mozart’s “The Impresario” made for a delightful summer evening’s entertainment.

Although not actually “candlelit” (at the end of one of the hottest, sunniest days of the year, the scene was bathed in golden daylight) the varied selection of arias and ensembles provided an enjoyable first half. Reflecting the merry sound of copious cork-popping from the relaxed picnicking audience beforehand, the concert appropriately got underway with the rousing ‘Brindisi’ from “La traviata”.

Opera Brava performanceThe programme of crowd-pleasers (such as the famous “Pearl Fishers” duet, the ‘Flower Duet’ from “Lakmé”, and a concluding Gilbert & Sullivan medley) was mixed with enough more adventurous repertoire to satisfy all tastes; and the performances, all sung in the original language, were generally assured and engaging.

Solo high points included Marc Beesley’s supremely-characterised rendition of Don Basilio’s ‘La Calunnia’ from “The Barber of Seville”, and Janet Shell’s expressive scena from Donizetti’s “La favorita”.

The encroaching dusk brought a magical intimacy to the second half – the rare treat of Mozart’s one-act comedy “The Impresario” (performed in English). This frothy tale of backstage theatrical rivalries contains some sparkling music (though none of the emotional depth of Mozart’s greatest operatic masterpiece, “The Marriage of Figaro”, which he worked on at the same time); but its light-heartedness makes it ideal of summer-evening entertainment.

The stars of the show were the two rival divas. As the ‘mature’ prima donna Madame Goldentrill, Amanda Buckland was excellently haughty; ambitious young soubrette Miss Silverpeal was played with delicious petulance by Catrine Kirkman, making impressively light work of Mozart’s virtuosic writing.

Artistically-ignorant banker Mr Angel was well-sung by Daniel Meades; Marc Beesley was amusingly harried as Mr Scruples, the impresario; and John Lofthouse almost stole the show as assistant Bluff, with a hilarious “Open All Hours” (Ronnie Barker) stammer – injecting the long-winded dialogue with some welcome earthy comedy.

Jeremy Silver kept up the pace with first-rate piano accompaniment. An effectively simple set was enhanced with impressive 18th-century costumes and wigs – the ladies especially fine in sweeping hooped dresses.

The relaxed and good-humoured atmosphere contributed to a greatly enjoyable evening, which I thoroughly recommend to all. Remember to take your own folding chair and warmer clothes for the second half – it got distinctly chillier once the sun had set! Opera Brava’s repertoire this season also includes “Carmen”, “The Marriage of Figaro” and “Madam Butterfly”.

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