What a scorcher of a love triangle in Maria di Rohan

Anne Marie Gibbons, mezzo-soprano, sings the role of David in Handel's Saul at the Buxton Festival 2011
Anne Marie Gibbons, mezzo-soprano, sings the role of David in Handel's Saul at the Buxton Festival 2011

BUXTON Festival begins this Saturday and two of its three flagship operas this year are by composers who are extremely well known in the High Peak town, Donizetti and Handel, respectively.

The last but one of Donizetti’s 70 operas, Maria di Rohan – described as a “scorcher” by Andrew Greenwood, who is conducting it – is the ninth of them to be staged by the festival.

A tragic melodrama built round a love triangle of sorts in the time of Louis XIII and Cardinal Richelieu, the opera was a huge success when it premiered in Vienna in 1843 and Buxton’s cast has Mary Plazas returning to sing the title role.

American tenor John Bellemer is back in the tenor lead and baritone William Dazeley is the other third of the triangle. Bulgarian mezzo Miroslava Yordanova is also back in a not insignificant trouser role and Stephen Medcalf is again the stage director.

Sung in Italian, Maria di Rohan gets six performances and the staging of Handel’s dramatic oratorio Saul, set in the days following World War Two, receives five.

The 11th occasion a Handel opera or oratorio has been seen on the Buxton Opera House stage during the festival, Saul was the first of the composer’s collaborations with Charles Jennens in 1738 – the most famous one is Messiah!

Jennens based his libretto on the episode in the Old Testament after David has despatched Goliath and returns victorious, his popularity with populace inciting the jealousy of Saul, the king of Israel.

Jonathan Best takes the title part with a fine-looking cast of younger generation singers elsewhere, Robert Murray as his son Jonathan, Elizabeth Atherton and Ruby Hughes as his daughters Merab and Michal, and the highly-rated Anne Marie Gibbons as a mezzo-soprano David, rather than the now more fashionable countertenor version of the role.

Harry Christophers in the orchestra pit is a virtual guarantee of musical strength and the stage director is Olivia Fuchs.

Another admired female stage director, Annilese Miskimmon, is called upon for the festival’s third self-generated opera, the melodious Mignon by Ambroise Thomas in the composer’s bicentenary year.

Based on Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister and Thomas’ finest work with often instantly recognisable music, Mignon is purchased from the band of gypsies who abducted her as a child by Wilhelm Meister with whom she falls in love and then gets jealous of his feelings for an actress, Philine.

New Zealand mezzo Wendy Dawn Thompson is Mignon is Buxton, American tenor Ryan MacPherson is Meister, Canadian soprano Gillian Keith is Philine, Andrew Greenwood conducts and the opera, sung in English, also gets five outings.

Music Theatre Wales, one of the visiting companies, are putting on two performances of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Greek, based on Steven Berkoff’s play retelling the Oedipus myth set in seedy London surroundings.

It effectively made the fairly prolific Turnage’s name when it premiered in Berlin in 1988, much of the composer’s appeal being his ability to successfully merge modern jazz and classical music.

Louise Winter is in the cast with the central role of Eddy taken by the emergent young Nottingham-born baritone Marcus Farnsworth.