Friday, 1 July 2016

Article published in Manchester Evening News 1 July 2016

IT’S Buxton Festival time again – based on original productions of operas at the High Peak town’s lovely Matcham-designed Edwardian theatre. Buxton has always delivered entertaining and imaginative productions of opera of a kind we don’t get anywhere else in the north west, and this year it’s offering a fascinating rarity … by Beethoven.

Beethoven wrote one opera: Fidelio. Right? Yes – but that was the 1814 version of one he first composed, under the title of Leonore, in 1805. It didn’t have a good opening night: the French had invaded Vienna, and its story about people struggling under the yoke of oppression didn’t go down well, either with the cowed locals or the nervous occupiers.

The composer tried a stripped-down version the following year, which didn’t do any better. But Buxton Festival artistic director Stephen Barlow (who will conduct) and director Stephen Medcalf believe the original version – even though often forgotten in favour of the Fidelio of 1814 – is well worth performing.

“When he wrote it, Beethoven was obviously on fire with the idea of a staged drama,” says Stephen Barlow. “He was just aglow with inspiration.

“There’s more music, and more drama, in the first act than in the 1814 Fidelio, and it’s where Beethoven has most in common with Mozart – he was inspired by his example of what orchestration and dramatic instinct could do in pointing up simple psychological dilemmas. It’s music to die for, it’s so beautiful.

“And there’s a slightly different slant to the whole story, as it becomes a celebration of the common man, rather than a paean of praise to the idea of married faithfulness. We’ve tried to make it clear that this piece is about society, and how things can be made good in the end, more than about an abstract concept.”

Stephen Barlow is one of the few conductors to have presented the opera on stage, as he conducted it in a production by Graham Vick, in Battigliano in the late 1980s. It has also been recorded by such luminaries as John Eliot Gardiner and Herbert Blomstedt … but Buxton is seeing something very special this year (July 8, 12, 15, 19 and 22, Buxton Opera House).

The other home-produced operas in the festival are Bellini’s I Capuleti E I Montecchi –Romeo And Juliet under another name – on July 9, 13, 16 and 23, and Handel’s Tamerlano (July 10, 14, 17 and 21).

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