Review: Buxton Festival Opera

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Opera House, Buxton

The Buxton Festival this year is celebrating a coup in staging the first UK performance of Sibelius’s one act opera The Maiden in the Tower.

Coupled with Rimsky-Korsakov’s rarely seen Kashchai the Immortal, this is a rare treat.

They have in common the story of a maiden in distress, here linked by the director, Stephen Lawless, as if they follow on from one another.

That left the Sibelius to be seen as a children’s opera taking place at the time of a birthday party, the birthday boy locking the young girl in his dolls house. Using the same basic set, we still find her there in the second opera, but this time la captive to the evil Kaschei.

It worked up to a point, though I felt too many compromises had to be made to form the link, not least 
in having mature singers dressed as children for the Sibelius.

Both works had the immediate benefit of the Northern Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Stuart Stratford adding a wealth of piquant colours on which the Rimsky-Korsakov score either stands or falls.

Using the same singers, they were performed with commendable enthusiasm, Kate Ladner, as the ‘maiden’ in both operas, producing a suitable Russian quality, while Richard Berkeley-Steel was the smooth lyric tenor to counter Owen Gilhooly’s baritone characters of ill-intent in his rather silly mask.

Further performances on July 20 and 24.

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