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Gala Concert at Buxton

July 10, 2013

Planet Hugill by Robert Hugill

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For the third night of the Buxton Festival, 7 July 2013, the main event was a gala concert at the Buxton Opera House, with the Northern Chamber Orchestra on stage conducted by Stephen Barlow, with soloists soprano Claire Rutter and baritone Stephen Gadd. The repertoire took in music from operas by Mozart, Verdi, Puccini, Bizet, Bellini, Massenet and Lehar, all performed in the presence of HRH the Duke of Gloucester.

Stephen Barlow and the orchestra opened proceedings with a crisply brisk account of the overture to Le Nozze di Figaro, which did however take a bit of time to settle down. This was the first in a group of items from that opera and was followed by Stephen Gadd’s brilliantly vivid account of the Count’s aria Vedro ment’io sospiro, then Claire Rutter gave a beautifully shaped account of the Countess’s aria Dove sono.

Next came a group of items from Verdi’s La Traviata. Violetta is a role which Rutter sang a lot some years ago and she will be reviving the role at Grange Park Opera next year. Both her and Gadd’s involvement in their role’s was palpable. Rutter has recently been singing both bel canto roles (such as Elvira in I Puritani) as well as more dramatic ones (such as Sieglinde in Die Walkure) and this seems to make her ideal for the role of Violetta with its combination of different technical challenges. Rutter’s Sempre libera was technically brilliant as well as being profoundly moving and highly dramatic, perhaps the top notes sounded a little pressured, but then so is the character. Both singers then joined for the duet from act two of the opera, a stunning piece of music drama which was worth the entrance money alone. And it was followed by Gadd singing Di provenza from later in the same act of the opera. This was a profoundly touching performance which was subtly done. With all the talk of the lack of good Verdi singers at the moment, it was heartening to hear two who clearly have a great affinity with Verdi’s music and can both provide a beautifully well-filled vocal line which retains a sense of line.

Perhaps the only miscalculation in the programming was following this group with Casta Diva from Bellini’s Norma. Coming after the dramatically powerful selection from Verdi’s La Traviata, the aria took some time to make itself felt. But Norma is one of Rutter’s signature roles and she sang the aria in the original key of G, rather than a lower key, giving the performance brilliance and power, but again with a nice degree of subtlety as well. Rutter is a singer who can move her voice round the fioriture in bel canto and make the notes really count. It was a shame that we could not have had the concluding cabaletta as well.

Stephen Gadd’s performance in Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci is familiar from the recent performances at Opera Holland Park, but that did not lessen the fine graded dramatic interaction of his account of the Prologue, brilliantly supported by Barlow and the orchestra. The first half concluded with the Intermezzo from Mascagnii’s Cavalleria rusticana. And on a warm evening, we gratefully went outside for a cold glass of wine.

It turns out it was a warm on stage as it had been in the theatre and for the second half Gadd and the men of the orchestra had taken off their jackets. This half started with Rutter singing Vissi d’arte from Puccini’s Tosca, a role she has sung both at Grange Park Opera and at ENO. A finely sung and rather touching account of the aria.

Gadd followed this with a highly vivid and very engaging performance of  the Toreador’s song from Bizet’s Carmen, notable perhaps for the way Gadd’s baritone coped with the tricky tessitura of the role, giving us a nicely free high upper register as well as resonant low notes.

A lively and nicely perky account of the overture to Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia was followed by Gadd’s hilarious (and finely sung) Largo al factotum from the opera.  Then Rutter gave us a nicely judged performance of Un bel di from Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, another role which Rutter has sung at Grange Park Opera, before Gadd demonstrated his command of that style of high French baritone part, by singing Avant de quitter ces lieux from Gounod’s Faust.

Then a change of pace as Claire Rutter gave us a poised and very touching Vilja from Lehar’s The Merry Widow, singing in English in Christopher Hassall’s lovely translation. Finally Gadd and Rutter joined together for the final scene of Massenet’s Thais, based the music of the meditation. An unusual choice, but an attractive one which both singers brought a nice degree of sophistication to the music, well supported by Nicholas Ward’s solo violin.

Of course, this wasn’t the end and we were treated to the final duet from The Merry Widow to send us on our way.

This was a wonderfully well filled recital, and both singers gave highly dramatic accounts (all sung from memory) all the arias and duets, each showing themselves adept at a variety of repertoire.

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