The Stage

The Stage by George Hall

The Stage

Stephen Barlow conducts Strauss’s domestic comedy – based on a tragi-comic misunderstanding in his own marriage, which might have brought it to a premature end – as the opening production of this season’s festival, his first as artistic director. Musically, the result is a rare treat. Less well known than it deserves to be, Intermezzo is notable for its sumptuous orchestral interludes, which Barlow delivers with swaggering brilliance. The Northern Chamber Orchestra plays marvellously for him.

It’s a triumph, too, for the central figures in the cast, especially Janis Kelly, who carries the show as Christine, Strauss’s own semi-autobiographical depiction of his seriously difficult but ultimately lovable wife. Her nuclear-like reaction on reading a letter apparently intended for her husband written by a dubious female provides the lynchpin of the plot. Also germane to proceedings is her crush on a young Baron she (literally) collides with when out tobogganing.

The ever resourceful Kelly is something of a wonder in this huge assignment: vocally secure and dramatically alert to every passing possibility of the text. Stephen Gadd supports her finely as the more phlegmatic Strauss, while Andrew Kennedy excels as the young man on the make. Secondary performers all make their mark in Stephen Unwin’s perceptive production.

Neatly presented though Paul Wills’ period designs are (the work premiered in 1924), occasionally the needs of the scenario and the exciting musical build-ups provided by Strauss lead one to expect something more lavish when the curtain rises on a new scene. But the piece proves vastly entertaining in Andrew Porter’s translation, and Buxton regulars will not be disappointed.