Bravo, Buxton! Less really is … Lammermoor

Mail on Sunday by David Mellor

Bravo, Buxton! Less really is ... Lammermoor


The little spa town of Buxton, set among the rolling uplands of the Peak District, is an enchanting place to visit. The town itself has emerged from decades of drabness. When the restoration of the charming, miniature Georgian crescent, every bit the equal of anything at Bath, is completed, Buxton will be back in a state not seen since its glory years in the Twenties.

The Buxton Festival, which ends today, encompasses not just opera and classical music, but jazz as well. And there’s also a burgeoning literary festival, with talks by Lady Antonia Fraser, Peter Hennessy and Andrew Roberts, among many others.

Best of all, perhaps, Buxton’s Opera House is a lovingly restored Frank Matcham masterpiece, which alone among Matcham’s theatres still sits snugly alongside the same buildings that were there when it was built more than a century ago.

This year there have been three staged operas – Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, Verdi’s Giovanna d’Arco, and Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas – and concert performances of Charpentier’s Louise. I caught up with Lucia, which secured a first-class performance under the experienced baton of festival director Stephen Barlow and his accomplished Northern Chamber Orchestra. It’s not easy to put on an opera of this scale on a shoestring, but Buxton secured the services of three first-class soloists: the Welsh soprano Elin Pritchard, Welsh tenor Adriano Graziani and distinguished baritone Stephen Gadd. There was also a fine cameo performance, as the ill-fated Arturo, from the veteran English tenor Bonaventura Bottone, still a class act well into his 60s.

Pritchard, singing in her first major role, showed remarkable promise, meeting the many vocal challenges that Lucia presents, while coping as an actress pretty well with the demands of the opera’s celebrated ‘Mad Scene’. Graziani, despite looking like a young Rafa Benitez, also cut an attractive figure as Edgardo, with a vocal elegance that bodes well for the future.

Stephen Gadd, as Edgardo’s mortal enemy Enrico, effortlessly dominated the stage, and I remain puzzled why this exceptional artist doesn’t have more of an international career. Director Stephen Unwin set the opera in late-Forties, mafia-dominated Sicily, and it worked perfectly well.

Music- and book-lovers could do worse than make a trip to Buxton next July.