The Sixteen Choir & Orchestra, Harry Christophers
The Grange Festival
The Grange, Northington, Hampshire. 28 June 2019
I think that few opera-goers would argue that Handel oratorios should not be staged as operas, despite the risk of letting opera directors loose on them. They are generally full of operatic images and action and usually lack the textural and plot bafflement and cross-dressing of many of Handel’s proper operas, although their Biblical stories come with their own element of bafflement. Their English language text can be rather clunky, as it certainly is in Belshazzar, but the momentum of the music and the large role for a choir makes them a particularly effective musical and theatrical show.
Following on from their recent partnership with the Academy of Ancient Music for Figaro The Grange Festival partnered with the choir and orchestra of The Sixteen (celebrating their 40th birthday) for a fully staged version of Handel’s Belshazzar. the story is taken from the Book of Daniel, and recounts the fall of Babylon at the hands of Cyrus the Great and the freeing of the Jewish nation from captivity. Directed by Daniel Slater with Robert Innes Hopkins as the designer, the setting, staging and direction was, with a few exceptions, excellent. A wall of Pink Floyd proportions was initially spread across the stage front, with the tip of a Breughelesque Tower of Babel peeking above the ramparts. Said tower swivelled through 180 degrees to reveal the internal settings. Continue reading
Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro
The Grange Festival
Academy of Ancient Music, Richard Egarr
The Grange, Northington, Hampshire. 19 June 2019
What seemed to be the entire stage was visible to the arriving audience, a blank black space devoid of any scenery or clue as to the setting for the awaited Le nozze di Figaro. It was only when the Overture started that a rear curtain parted to reveal a shallow space at the back of the stage with tables set out for the servants of a great house. Said servants wandered in, some via the audience, with the usual paraphernalia of traditional country house of centuries gone, with guns and game slung over the shoulders of gamekeepers and bonny housemaids doing things with flowers. Were it not for the fact the much of adjoining The Grange mansion had long since been demolished, we could have been in the basement of the next door building.
For those who do not know The Grange, what does survive is the important early Georgian Neo-Classical cement-rendered exterior, surrounding a mid-17th-century brick house, one wall of which is now exposed following the removal of the extensive Private and Bachelor wings. The interior is in a wonderfully evocative almost completely unrestored state. At the end of the surviving screen wall of the private wing is the remains of the early 19th-century conservatory, later converted into a ballroom. In 2002, this was further converted into a magnificent multi-award-winning opera house by Grange Park Opera who were the instigators and focus of opera productions at The Grange between 1998 and 2016. They have now relocated to the new Theatre in the Woods at West Horsley Place, Surrey to be replaced at The Grange by the three-year-old Grange Festival. Continue reading
Mozart: The Abduction from the Seraglio
Die Entführung aus dem Serail
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Jean-Luc Tingaud
The Grange Festival, 24 June 2018
The fledgeling Grange Festival, now in its second year, followed its impressive production of Handel’s Agrippina (reviewed here) with a pantomime interpretation of Die Entführung aus dem Serail, here under the title of The Abduction from the Seraglio in its new English translation by David Parry. The veteran director John Copley (the 85-year-old honoured with a very old photograph in the programme) kept things light and frothy, doing nothing to make up for the perceived the lack of character development in Mozart’s comic Singspiel. The replacement of sung recitative with spoken text meant the sequence of arias and consort numbers were not part of an unfolding musical fabric, and the rather light direction meant that it got close to the style of present-day musical theatre. Judging by their response, it suited the tastes of the Hampshire audience well, with little to trouble their intellect or to take their mind off the long dinner interval or the spectacular scenery outside. How they giggled at moments like judging girls on the grounds of being “not too fat”, or Osmin’s calling Pedrillo a “mincing little nancy”, albeit on this occasion because he was (counterintuitively) “ogling women that you fancy”: a triumph of rhyme over rhetoric. Continue reading
Academy of Ancient Music, Robert Howarth
The Grange Festival, Hampshire. 16 June 2018
Handel’s Agrippina was first performed in 1709 during the Venice Carnival when he was just 23. It was towards the end of his three-year stay in Venice and used a considerable amount of borrowed material from Handel and other composers. It was an immediate success, with a further 26 performances, but was not revived again until modern times. It is now considered his first major operatic success. With its story of intrigue, rivalry, and deception in historic Rome, Cardinal Vincenzo Grimani’s libretto for Agrippina is said to reflect his own political rivalry with Pope Clement XI. The plot tells of Agrippina’s ruthless plan to usurp her husband Emperor Claudius and place her son, the youthful Nerone, on the throne. The sexually provocative Poppea joins in the fray in a complex plan to undo Agrippina’ plot, not least in her attempts to discredit Ottone, who Claudius wants to create Emperor as a reward for saving his life. It certainly had many political and cultural undertones at the time, and perhaps still does today.