Review: Bride and Gloom8:56, 6th August 2019
Bride and Gloom (Gli sposi malcontenti) – Storace
Bampton Classical Opera
Review by Roderic Dunnett
Bampton’s Bride and Gloom: You won’t believe it’s not Mozart!
Bampton Opera has unearthed Stephen Storace’s first opera for Vienna, Gli sposi malcontenti (1785), cheerfully redubbed Bride and Gloom.
This fairly predictable plot (two sparring couples, bossy dad, cheeky maid, a bizarre rogue creating havoc) didn’t feel routine: first, because of Storace’s patent dramatic genius; and then because Bampton is skilled at amassing high-class young casts, a polished, well directed orchestra, witty set and props, and a cheeky sense of humour that transforms even the banal into the deliciously zany.
Storace (1762–96) comes miraculously close to his friend Mozart here, above all in the numerous ensembles: several well-schemed trios; one astonishing quartet for male voices; several ingeniously built quintets (one explosive), and two masterly, brilliantly prolonged Finales. If Mozart didn’t teach the 23-year-old Storace, did they share ideas?
The girls included the maid Bettina – a prototype Despina played by Caroline Kennedy, all her solos shiningly memorable; Aoife O’Sullivan’s soaring pure tone and polished acting as Enrichetta – hilarious in a mock tennis game in sensational costume; and above all, Jenny Stafford, poignant, anguished and beautiful in Eginia’s self-questioning slow-paced arias (‘Oh heaven, dare I remain?’).
Storace’s writing for the men is equally inspired. Casimiro (tenor Gavan Ring, the jilted husband) excelled in strong, characterful voice, irritable outbursts and much judicious pacing. Baritone Arthur Bruce uniquely revealed a lovely, sensitive timbre. Robert Davies, invariably superb, heightened the crazy comedy ensconced behind a sofa à la Cherubino, and shone in lower registers – enhancing like a Sarastro both of Storace’s extended Finales (each built by stages to perfect full septet).
Outstanding among the men was the potty pest Valente (tenor Adam Tunnicliffe), who not only unveiled an insane clutter of scatterbrain detail, but shone with a wondrously arresting and wide-ranging voice, commanding across the full vocal range. Meanwhile, the vivid orchestral detail (oboe, clarinet obbligati, paired flutes, hardworking horns) was utterly lucid.
Bampton Opera will stage Bride and Gloom on 26 August at Westonbirt School, Gloucestershire, and on 17 September at St John’s Smith Square, London