The audience of course loved it

Country house opera is one of the few areas of classical music where audiences are growing. It tends to attract those lovely people who broker private equity deals, and holds little attraction for me. A view that seems to be confirmed by Anthony Holden's review in today's Observer:

La donna del lago, Garsington, Oxfordshire, Thurs to 7 July - Like his twin brother Christopher and all too many other globally renowned opera directors, David Alden can be maddeningly inconsistent. For every award-winning Jenufa or Ariodante at ENO, there are two or three eccentric turkeys gobbling their way round provincial houses. Now he has elected to head into rural England and immediately, infuriatingly, disastrously caught the country-house bug.

Rossini may be best known for his comedies, but the mature composer also wrote ornate, high-romantic dramas. One such is La donna del lago, the first Italian opera to be based on a Walter Scott novel, inspiring 25 more in the two decades after its 1819 premiere, not least Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor. We might never have enjoyed such riches if Alden had directed La donna's premiere. At Garsington (above) he reduces this noble work to a shambolic panto. Perhaps it is because he's American that Alden signs up to the general belief that black-tied, champagne-quaffing English country-house audiences must be made to laugh, and have a jolly evening out, whatever the work on offer.

So the rebel Scottish army becomes a bunch of can-swilling lager louts, staggering around the stage in a parody of music-hall insobriety. The trouser-role romantic lead, Malcolm, is a punk in Sex Pistols T-shirt and Doc Martens. Mustachioed deer smoke cigars and read Country Life, pickpocketing their drunken hunters. The baddie, Rodrigo, does a Ricky Gervais stand-up routine in horns and leather jacket; when he gets angry he starts, guess what, overturning tables and chairs. Yes, just about every available stage cliche is on view.

Only the heroine, Elena, manages to maintain some semblance of dignity amid this puerile chaos, though the vocal range of Carmen Giannattasio is severely stretched by Rossini's coloratura demands. The same proves true of the tenors Colin Lee, Michael Colvin and all other principals. David Parry conducts with more enthusiasm than finesse, while Alden makes a Monty Python mockery of high Rossini. The audience, of course, loved it.

As Anthony Holden goes on to say, thank goodness for Aldeburgh
Garsington image credit Corydora. Review credit Observer. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk


Chris Foley said…
Critics may thumb their noses at regional opera, but these engagements are important to the careers of many singers and musicians, as well as to the thriving of both opera and classical music. The country bumpkins that Mr. Holden derides are often the very ones that own large classical music collections on disc and travel large distances to see major productions.

In addition, summer festivals are a godsend to small towns, whose small businesses often thrive with the visitors that these performances bring into town.

From a dedicated summer festival junkie...
Murai said…
"Perhaps it is because he's American that Alden signs up to the general belief that black-tied, champagne-quaffing English country-house audiences must be made to laugh, and have a jolly evening out, whatever the work on offer."

Hmm, probably more like: "The audience, of course, loved it." SOunds like a BRITISH problem to me.
Unknown said…
Somebody should publish a dictionary of stage production cliches in classical opera and drama. It would include entries on:

Nazi greatcoats (a bit passe now)
Station platforms (with luggage piled up)
Tennis rackets
Boating parties
Cocktail bars

Etc etc .... Apropos 19th c Italian opera in particular, see Henze's wonderful essay Visconti and Opera Production. I'll scan it and send it over.

Sorry that I appear to be replying as just "David". Not sure how to change this.
Anonymous said…
To Daid's Dictionary of Stage Production Termini I would add

eccentric turkey

a (great!) example of it's use would be:

"eccentric turkeys gobbling their way round provincial houses" that "attract those lovely people who broker private equity deals"
Anonymous said…
aw, again re the Dictionary of Stage Production Termini:
I've just overlooked another great expression so worthy of an entry

champagne-quaffing (mainl Engl.) as in
"champagne-quaffing English country-house audience"

btw, anybody interested in co-authoring teh
Dictionary of Modern English Stage Production Termini?

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