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Commentary

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Bampton Classical Opera 2019: Stephen Storace - Bride & Gloom (Gli sposi malcontenti)

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 …

In summer 2019 Bampton Classical Opera will present 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 will be designed and directed by Jeremy Gray, conducted by Anthony Kraus, and will be sung in English.

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 is delighted that Gavan Ring will be joining the company for Bride & Gloom, having previously performed for Bampton in Mozart’s La finta semplice. These will be 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.

Cast:
Eginia - Jenny Stafford (soprano)
Bettina - Caroline Kennedy (soprano)
Enrichetta - Aoife O’Sullivan(soprano)
Casimiro - Gavan Ring (tenor)
Valente - Adam Tunnicliffe (tenor)
Artidoro - Arthur Bruce (baritone)
Rosmondo - Robert Davies (baritone)

Director/Designer - Jeremy Gray
Associate Director - Alicia Frost
Conductor: Anthony Kraus
Orchestra of Bampton Classical Opera (Bampton, Westonbirt)
CHROMA (St John’s Smith Square)
Répétiteur - Hannah Quinn

Libretto: Gaetano Brunati
English translation: Brian Trowell

Performances, with free pre-performance talks:
The Deanery Garden, Bampton, Oxfordshire OX18 2LL
7.00pm, Friday 19 and Saturday 20 July

The Orangery Theatre, Westonbirt School, Gloucestershire GL8 8QG
5.00pm, Monday 26 August

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

www.bamptonopera.org

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