Salieri’s Scuola de’ gelosi at Bampton
After years of neglect, some of Antonio Salieri’s forty or so operas are beginning to find their way onto the modern stage. Fascination with the composer’s historical character, sparked off by Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus, may be largely responsible for this, but some credit is certainly due to Jeremy Gray and Gilly French who at Bampton have been disinterring operatic treasure from the 18th century since 1993. La scuola de’ gelosi has much going for it: a comedy on marital jealousy and its exploitation, with just a hint of Cosi Fan Tutte anguish, it has a sprightly, melodious score, energetically played by the orchestra under the direction of Antony Kraus. While not all the music is memorable, there are brilliant ensembles at the end of each act, and one deeply moving, full-scale tragic aria for the Countess; an uncanny reflection on the analogous piece in Figaro, though – as it happens – Salieri wrote it for Nancy Storace, Mozart’s Susanna.
Bampton insists on opera in English and since the young cast were commendably able to get across the very witty, rhyming translation (with contemporary references to Trump and the Mexican Wall and Theresa May’s deal with the DUP) by French and Gray, the policy was highly successful. On stage, the singers performed with energy, enthusiasm and obvious enjoyment, providing much entertainment, as they moved adroitly from wily intrigue to real, or feigned, outrage. Alessandro Fisher, in particular, as the Count displayed an extraordinary range of facial expressions to convey not only mischievous desire, but also haughty indifference and thwarted resignation. Here is surely a buffo tenor to watch for the future. All the soloists sang well, but the two wives should be singled out as especially praiseworthy: Nathalie Chalkley for the purity of intonation and the steeliness of voice brought to chide her spouse; and Rhiannon Llewellyn whose colourful phrasing of the vocal line added to the emotional intensity of delivery.
Jeremy Gray’s production had, because of adverse weather, to be transferred from the Deanery Garden to the church. Whatever may have been lost, there was plenty of inventive comic movement and posturing which remained. At moments, I did wonder whether something more could have been made of a serious subtext which, as revealed in the tragic aria to which I have referred, arguably underlies the opera. But then, resemblances notwithstanding, Salieri is not Mozart.