Bampton Classical Opera is nearly thirty years old and is going from strength to strength. The company specializes in putting on unusual 18th-century operas and proving that they can still be highly entertaining as well as musically rich and rewarding.
Haydn’s Il Mondo della Luna (literally the world of the moon, translated here as Fool Moon), a comic opera from 1777, is the latest of their productions. Based on a play by Carlo Goldoni, it tells a hilarious tale about how an outrageous rogue, Ecclitico, who professes to be an astronomer, tricks a pompous old fool (Bonafede) into believing he has been transported to the Moon, where he meets the Emperor of the Moon and is presented at his court.
Dazzled by the grandeur he finds there, Bonafede is ordered by the Emperor (really Ecclitico’s assistant Cecco) to allow his two daughters, Flaminia and Clarice, to marry two of his lunar courtiers who are really their very terrestrial suitors, Ecclitico and Ernesto. Bonafede does not realize he has been tricked until it is too late. The whole plot is a romp, and Haydn’s music is as we would expect, inventive, melodious and colourful.
As Ecclitico, Nathan Vale was up to all the versatile demands of this rôle which combines crafty rogue with triumphant hero. Ecclitico is in love with Clarice, and is determined to wed her despite the meanness of her father. He explains his ingenious plan to Cecco and Ernesto who happily go along with it. Ernesto, a struggling artist, was originally a castrato rôle and is sung in this production by Catherine Backhouse. He agrees to disguise himself absurdly as the Morning Star, Hesperus, because he is in love with Flaminia, Bonafede’s elder daughter. As Flaminia, Siân Dicker has the most demanding lead soprano rôle. While all the sopranos were excellent, she stood out, putting passion and expression into her virtuoso aria, “Our heads are ruled by reason” and her duets with Ernesto. In the rôle of Clarice, young soprano Iúnó Connolly was strong and feisty.
Young New Zealand baritone Jonathan Eyers sings Bonafede, the ogre father who won’t allow his daughters to marry because he doesn’t want to part with the dowries and, anyway, he is far more interested in his own lecherous designs on the young maid Lisetta. Eyers is a confident and talented comedic performer, who made his tall, thin figure into a comic feature in itself. As Lisetta, Margo Arsane was vivacious and sparkling, while in the rôle of Cecco, Sam Harris nearly stole the whole show. Resplendent in his gilded costume as the Emperor of the Moon, he sang a splendid aria about how earthlings appear from a lunar point of view, “Life is mad on planet Earth”. He uses his power as Emperor to obtain Lisetta as his wife and Bonafede is tricked into bestowing a handsome settlement on the pair.
The orchestra gave a fine performance under the conductor Thomas Blunt, and it was amusing to hear the players murmur in protest at a joke about terrestrial musicians.
The witty rhyming translation of the libretto has been done by Gilly French, who was one of the founders of Bampton Opera, along with director Jeremy Gray. Verbal jokes and visual jokes - such as the use of a giant cheese grater as scenery - ensured a light-hearted atmosphere, belying the careful research behind the production. The audience had the added pleasure of the idyllic surroundings in the gardens of the Deanery at Bampton, courtesy of hosts Mr and Mrs Armitage.
Events like Bampton Opera are a treat and among the great pleasures of summer in Oxfordshire. Music lovers should already be scrutinizing their future productions and booking for them well in advance.
Venues: The Deanery Garden Bampton 22nd and 23rd July 2022
The Orangery Theatre Westonbirt School, 29th August
St John’s Smith Square London16th September
AND SEE www.bamptonopera.org