Bampton Classical Opera’s summer 2016 production will be a double-bill
of one-act works: the UK première and first staging in modern times of
Gluck’s Philemon and Baucis, and Thomas Arne’s
The Judgment of Paris, which the company performed in 2010-11. The
operas will be staged by the same creative team as the highly-successful 2015
production of Salieri’s Trofonio’s Cave ( review):
director Jeremy Gray, translator Gilly French, and conductor Paul
Wingfield, who was a Jette Parker Young Artist from 2012-14 and is currently a
member of the music staff at the Royal Opera House.
The cast for both operas features Canadian soprano Barbara Cole Walton,
making her company début, mezzo-soprano Catherine Backhouse, who sang in
the London performance of Salieri’s Trofonio’s Cave in
2015, and two other cast members from the same production: soprano Aoife
O’Sullivan and tenor Christopher Turner. They are joined by tenor Robert
Anthony Gardiner and baritone Robert Gildon.
Bampton Classical Opera has made a unique commitment to performing some of
Gluck’s barely-known shorter operas, including UK premières of
La danza and Il Parnaso confuso (review).
Gluck is all too easily assigned to a single musico-historical category –
that of operatic reformer. However, his works extend far beyond the
‘reform’ opera style with which he is most commonly associated,
encompassing youthful Metastasian opera seria, numerous ballet scores
and several delightful one-act festal serenatas.
As a long-time employee of the Hapsburg estate, Gluck was required to devise
suitable entertainments for festive occasions. In 1769, when Ferdinand, Duke of
Parma and grandson of Louis XV, was to marry Maria Amalia, Archduchess of
Austria and sister of Marie Antoinette a series of events was planned,
comprising a tournament, elaborate feasts, a Chinese fair, and a festival
illustrating contemporary advances in art and science. The festivities
stretched over several months, and included an opera-ballet commissioned from
Gluck entitled Le feste d’Apollo, which consisted of a prologue
and three essentially unrelated acts: Aristeo, Philémon e
Baucis and an abridgement of the composer’s Orfeo.
Characteristically, the subject of Philemon and Baucis was taken
from Classical mythology. It tells of the story of two young lovers, the
eponymous shepherd and shepherdess, who show great respect and care for Jupiter
when he appears before them disguised as a pilgrim. In return, the rustic
couple are blessed by Jupiter with everlasting life and elevated to the status
of demigods. At the same time, he curses their fellow Phrygians who had refused
to help him.
The score blends the charmingly simple with the intricately sophisticated.
One commenter has observed of the work that ‘Shorter numbers have an
epigrammatic compression of charm and style that is very French, but the longer
arias possess a majestic breadth of treatment that both looks back to Italian
Baroque models and forward to Mozart’.
Gluck borrowed from several earlier works – inevitably commissions for
festive occasion-pieces needed to be dashed off in haste – but there is
some striking original music too, not least Jupiter’s aria di
furia against the uncharitable Phyrigians, Bauci’s joyful, florid,
stratospheric ‘Il mio pastor tu sei’, and a thunderous storm
This new première will be given in an English translation by Gilly
French, with a performing edition based on a manuscript in the Royal College of
The Judgment of Paris is one of three masques composed by Thomas
Arne between 1738 and 1742. It represents, along with The Masque of
Comus and The Masque of Alfred some of the composer’s
finest work. It was first performed in London on 12 March 1742, and it has been
suggested that it may have been intended to upstage Sammartini, the
protégé of Frederick the Prince of Wales, for the Italian’s own
The Judgment of Paris had been performed at Cliveden in 1740 alongside
Arne’s masque, Alfred.
William Congreve’s text had been set before, in 1700, when it served
as the vehicle for a composing competition whose 200 guinea prize was shared
between Daniel Purcell, John Weldon, John Eccles and Gottfried Finger. The
winning compositions were subsequently performed at a special concert. Perhaps
in choosing the same libretto forty years later, Arne hoped to make a point
about his own superior standing, although by then the original competition
pieces had long been forgotten.
Arne’s inventive music perfectly matches Congreve’s droll wit.
The action relates the episode in which Paris, a shepherd, is obliged to choose
the fairest among the three goddesses Juno, Pallas and, inevitably, Venus.
During the competition, Paris finds himself the subject of various enticements
as the goddesses attempt to persuade him in turn to award them the symbol of
victory, a golden apple. Far from displaying bucolic gaucheness, Paris
demonstrates unanticipated wile in delaying his judgement for long enough to
incite the impatient goddess into singing several arias and engaging in a
degree of disrobing. Just how is a director to treat Paris’s line,
‘When each is undress’d, I’ll judge of the best’?
The overture is well-known but there is also much lovely writing for solo
voice, which in the words of one modern commentator shows Arne to be ‘at
the height of his powers […] unequalled by his English contemporaries for
the matchless flow of his melodic invention’. In addition to the
beautiful, Paris and Mercury (two tenors) share a splendid duet and the three
goddesses have a lively dance-like trio. As with Gluck, the music ranges the
simple – strophic airs – to the intricate, as in ‘Gentle
swain’ with its elaborate cello obliggato.
Bampton Classical Opera performed The Judgment of Paris in concert
performances marking Arne’s 300th birthday in Oxford’s
Holywell Music Room and in Wigmore Hall in 2010-11.
Philemon and Baucis/The Judgment of Paris , with free
The Deanery Garden, Bampton, Oxfordshire OX18 2LL
7.00 pm Friday 22 July, Saturday 23 July
The Orangery Terrace, Westonbirt School, near Tetbury, Glos GL8
5.00 pm Monday 29 August
St John’s Smith Square, London SW1P 3HA
7.00 pm Tuesday 13 September
Philemon and Baucis
Baucis – Barbara Cole Walton, Philemon – Catherine
Backhouse, Jupiter – Christopher Turner, Chorus soprano (shepherdess)
– Aoife O’Sullivan, Chorus tenor – Robert Anthony Gardiner,
Chorus baritone – Robert Gildon
The Judgment of Paris
Juno – Barbara Cole Walton, Pallas – Catherine Backhouse,
Paris – Christopher Turner, Venus – Aoife O’Sullivan, Mercury
– Robert Anthony Gardiner, Chorus baritone – Robert Gildon
Conductor: Paul Wingfield
Director/designer: Jeremy Gray
Movement director: Triona Adams
Costume designer: Vikki Medhurst
The Deanery Garden and Westonbirt:
Tickets: £35 (under 18: half-price)
By Telephone: 01993 851142
By post: Bampton Classical Opera, 1 Deanery Court, Broad Street,
Bampton, OX18 2LY
St John’s Smith Square:
Tickets: £15, £22, £30. Booking for Friends of St
John’s opens 4 July, for General Public 11 July
By Telephone: 020 7222 1061
By post: St John’s Smith Square, London SW1P 3HA
image_description=El Juicio de Paris by Enrique Simonet, 1904 [Source: Wikipedia]
product_title=Bampton Classical Opera 2016
product_by=A preview by Claire Seymour
product_id=Above: El Juicio de Paris by Enrique Simonet, 1904 [Source: Wikipedia]