Bampton Classical Opera has just reached its thirtieth anniversary. For thirty years they have been giving delightful performances of lesser-known operas from the 18th century in the beautiful surroundings of Bampton village in Oxfordshire, Westonbirt School and St. John's Church, Smith Square, London.
Their latest production is of an opera that has never before been performed in England - La Fiera de Venezia (The Venice Fair) written in 1772 by Antonio Salieri.
The annual event held at Venice known as "La Sensa" (The Feast of the Ascension) was an occasion for festivity, a bustling market, fun and frolic. Multitudes gathered to see the Doge's magnificent gilded barge sail up the Grand Canal. Masked revellers mingled and amid the throng there was ideal opportunity for amorous intrigue and every form of roguery.
The plot concerns a naughty liaison between Ostrogoto (Andrew Henley, tenor) and Falsirena (Ellen Mawhinney, soprano). They want to have a bit of fun unnoticed by his fiancée, the beautiful Calloandra (Sarah Chae, soprano), or Falsirena's longstanding boyfriend, Belfusto (Aaron Kendall, baritone). This proves complicated and a series of disguises and misunderstandings ensue...
Falsirena's father Grifagno (Philip Sheffield) who is a thorough rogue, uses fraud to ensure he wins the lottery, but then loses all his ill gotten gains in the casino. With colourful costumes and non-stop action, this was high-spirited entertainment.
For me the most enjoyable part of the spectacle was the dancing in the masked ball in the second Act. Beautifully choreographed, the dancing enhanced the delicate sounds of the small chamber orchestra, where Alex Norton played the harpsichord. All the singers were excellent and Ellen Mawhinney is certainly a very good comic actress. Sarah Chae, whose rôle as Calloandra features several notable arias, was outstanding, her lovely ethereal silvery voice seeming to hang in the air like the delicate crescent moon just rising.
If you associate Salieri with the brooding, tortured and sinister figure of the play "Amadeus" where he is depicted as gaslighting the young Mozart to an early death because of professional jealousy, you will not recognize him here, because this opera is all light-hearted fun, a romp from start to finish.
There are two more opportunities to see this production, next month at Westonbirt School and then in September at St. John's Church, Smith Square, London.
To book see the website.
Photographs by Anthony Hall.