Sunday 4 August 2019

Bampton Classical Opera - Bride & Gloom

It’s time to get your opera on!



STEPHEN STORACE: Bride & Gloom (Gli sposi malcontenti)

The Orangery Theatre, Westonbirt School, Glos: Monday 26 August
St John’s Smith Square, London: Tuesday 17 September 

Libretto: Gaetano Brunati
English translation: Brian Trowell
Director/Designer: Jeremy Gray
Conductor: Anthony Kraus
Orchestra of Bampton Classical Opera (Westonbirt)
CHROMA (St John’s Smith Square)

“…a charmer….Storace’s sparkling score makes one regret that relatively little of his music has survived.”  Inge Kjemtrup,

This summer Bampton Classical Opera presents Stephen Storace’s lively two-act comedy of marital manners Gli sposi malcontenti (1785), under the title Bride & Gloom. The company has already staged Storace’s other Viennese opera Gli equivoci (The Comedy of Errors) with great success in 2000-1.  The production is designed and directed by Jeremy Gray, conducted by Anthony Kraus and is sung in English.

Stephen Storace is an undeservedly neglected English 18th-century composer, whose hugely successful later London operas such as The Pirates helped establish a trend which eventually led to Gilbert and Sullivan.  Gli sposi malcontenti, his first opera, was commissioned in Vienna in 1785 by the Emperor Joseph II, and creates a web of amorous intrigue, lies and slander, expressed in music of dynamic orchestral colour and driving energy.  The commission partly came about because Joseph was infatuated with Stephen’s sister, the legendary soprano Nancy (Anna Selina) Storace. Unfortunately on the opening night Nancy lost her voice, and retired from the stage for several months. She was full of remorse for letting her brother down, although in the end the opera itself was well received.

Newly-wed Casimiro and Eginia hardly seem to be enjoying a state of marital bliss.  Why does Eginia sleep on her own, and why is her ex, Artidoro, still hanging around?  He now seems to have an eye for the undoubted charms of Casimiro’s sister, Enrichetta – but she’s also attracted the lustful interest of dull and dusty Dr Valente, a man likely to turn nasty if thwarted…

Bampton Classical Opera is delighted that Gavan Ring joins the company for Bride & Gloom, having previously performed for Bampton in Mozart’s La finta semplice.  These are among Gavan’s first performances as a tenor, having already enjoyed a highly successful career as a baritone, including appearances with Glyndebourne, Garsington and Wexford. The talented team of singers assembled includes both company debuts and some familiar faces.

“Highly engaging………admirers of (Mozart) really should make every effort to take up this rare chance to deepen their appreciation of the context in which he worked.”  Curtis Rogers,

Stephen Storace’s Gli equivoci (The Comedy of Errors), one of the most significant of the many little-known operas staged by Bampton Classical Opera over the past 25 years, proved to be a revelation. The Times commented: “the forgotten Storace, like steak-and-kidney pudding, is a victim of the inverted snobbery of the English” and praised the “brilliantly handled” extended ensemble finales, the “deft and delicate scoring” and the surprising maturity of this 24-year-old English composer, collaborating at that time in Vienna with Lorenzo da Ponte. 

A year before Gli equivoci, in 1785, Stephen was commissioned by Emperor Joseph II to produce his first opera, Gli sposi malcontenti. The commission undoubtedly stemmed from the Emperor’s infatuation with Stephen’s sister, Nancy Storace, then engaged as prima donna in the imperial Viennese Italian opera.  Despite little experience as a composer, Stephen had absorbed many of the latest musical trends through his recent travels in Italy with his sister, and in Vienna through his close friendship, and perhaps study, with Mozart.  Although the first performance of Sposi was hardly smooth – Nancy lost her voice during the first act and retired from the stage for several months – it nevertheless entered the repertory of the Burgtheater and was subsequently well-received in Prague, Leipzig, Vienna and Paris.  

As with Salieri’s La scuola de’ gelosi and La grotta di Trofonio, both performed by Bampton in recent years, Gli sposi malcontenti was one of a web of rival operas which had their direct effect on Mozart and Da Ponte in the creation of Figaro and Così fan tutte– a frenetic quintet involving hiding on and behind a sofa and a whirlwind finale of mistaken identities in the garden suggest that Storace’s librettist Gaetano Brunati knew Beaumarchais’ then-banned play Le mariage de Figaro.

The plot concerns an unhappy and listless marriage between Casimiro and Eginia, and the unsettling presence of past lovers and would-be rivals.  Brunati’s libretto is sharp and the pacing dramatic and varied. Storace’s operatic music is characterised by a keen understanding of ensemble, often piling in the voices in ever-changing textures, orchestration and tempi.  It is in fact a refined and luscious Viennese concoction, more Sachertorte mit Schlag than steak-and-kidney pudding.

Gli sposi malcontenti was never performed in England in the 18th or 19th centuries, although Storace reused much of its music in his varied English-language operas in London.  The English premiere was given by Opera Viva at King’s College in London in 1985, but it has not been performed since.

Bampton Classical Opera enjoys a national reputation for its passionate and enlightened discoveries of rare late 18th-century operas, sung in lively new translations.  Amongst these have been UK premières of Bertoni Orfeo, Isouard Cendrillon, Marcos Portugal The Marriage of Figaro, Paer Leonora, Benda Romeo and Juliet, Gluck Il Parnaso confuso, Philemon and Baucis and Salieri Falstaff.   The company works with some of the finest emerging young professional singers and stages productions in rural venues in Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire as well as regularly in London at St John’s Smith Square.  Other significant venues and festivals have included Wigmore Hall and Purcell Room, Buxton Festival, Cheltenham Festival and Theatre Royal Bath. Bampton Classical Opera encourages a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere, and with ticket prices being excellent value, their performances provide an ideal introduction to anyone unaccustomed to opera.

Bride & Gloom performances, with free pre-performance talks:​​      
The Orangery Theatre, Westonbirt School, near Tetbury, Gloucestershire GL8 8QG
5.00 pm Monday 26 August

St John’s Smith Square, London SW1P 3HA
7.00 pm Tuesday 17 September

Booking Information, Bampton and Westonbirt
Tickets: £38 (under 18: half-price)
By Telephone: 01993 851142

By Post: Bampton Classical Opera, 1 Deanery Court, Broad Street, Bampton, OX18 2LY

Booking information, St John’s Smith Square
Tickets: £18, £28, £38.  Booking opens in July
By Telephone: 020 7222 1061
By Post: St John’s Smith Square, London SW1P 3HA

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