Iford Arts: Jephtha

Iford Arts: Jephtha
Contraband, Christopher Bucknall
Iford Manor, 25 July 2017 

Jephtha was Handel’s last oratorio, composed in 1751 as his sight was failing to the extent that at one point in the autograph score he wrote “unable to go on owing to weakening of the sight of my left eye.” It is rather telling that note occurs at the chorus that concludes Act 2, How dark, O Lord, are thy decrees, All hid from mortal sight. Despite Handel’s personal difficulties at the time, and the frankly bizarre Biblical story upon which it is based, it is one of his finest oratorios, full of the most glorious music for six solo singers and chorus with a succession of attractive and dramatic arias linked by relatively short recitatives.

This Iford Arts production, in the delightfully intimate surroundings of the Italianate cloister at Iford Manor, was directed by Timothy Nelson, with Christopher Bucknall directing the 14 instrumentalists of JEPH17_198.jpgContraband. It was set in recent times in a fundamentalist (and militaristic) Christian community of cult-like weirdness, led by the controlling Zebel (Frederick Long), with behaviours frequently bordering on what might have been found in a lunatic asylum of Handel’s day. As it happened, on my drive down to Iford, I listened to a Radio 4 broadcast of an account of the 1993 siege of a fundamentalist sect at Waco in Texas. The comparisons were chilling. Continue reading

Iford Arts: ‘A Fairy Queen’

Iford Arts: ‘A Fairy Queen’
Early Opera Company, Tim Nelson
Iford Manor. 3 August 2016

Iford Manor, near Bradford-on-Avon, was the home of the Edwardian architect and landscape designer Harold Peto from 1899 until his death in 1933. He created the Italianate gardens that clamber up the hillside above the classical-fronted mediaeval Iford Manor house, with terraces of formal architectural bits and bobs including a tiny recreated Italian cloister.Iford.jpgSince 1996, the cloister has been home to summer opera productions, presented by Iford Arts. Their latest season concluded with ‘A Fairy Queen’ presented by Iford Arts and their regular orchestra from Christian Curnyn’s Early Opera Company.

Purcell’s The Fairy-Queen is notoriously difficult to perform or stage. The music, designed to accompany the masques that form part of the various acts, only lasts long enough for half a normal concert. Performed complete, with Betterton’s rather awkward version of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, it seems to lasts for ever. I remember the 2009 Glyndebourne Festival Continue reading