Bampton Classical Opera returns to its spiritual home with a Gluck masterpiece this weekend with its upcoming production of Paris and Helen.
Following the successful production of Gluck’s one-act opera The Crown in May, Bampton Classical Opera’s Jeremy Gray described Paris and Helen as “a complete masterpiece”.
“Paris and Helen is a shiningly beautiful work of remarkable beauty”
“It’s been on our wish list for about five years,” he says. “It is a shiningly beautiful work of remarkable beauty, with wonderful melodies, stunning and really varied orchestration, and a real sincerity to the music. In some ways it’s very simple but extraordinarily expressive.”
Bampton’s production of this rarely-performed Gluck opera, conducted by Thomas Blunt, was originally scheduled for 2020, to mark the 250thanniversary of the 1770 premiere at the Burgtheater in Vienna.
The plot is a simple one – Paris, the son of King Priam and Queen Hecuba, arrives from Troy to woo Helen, the Queen of Sparta, and after resisting him over the course of five acts she eventually succumbs.
“It’s an incredibly simple plot but it’s so human,” says Jeremy, who founded Bampton Classical Opera with wife Gilly French in 1993. “It has brilliant storytelling and some mega arguments between Paris and Helen that get incredibly fiery.”
“we want to make it come alive, for it to be about real people…”
“Paris and Helen was his third reform opera, so it’s an extraordinary piece.”
Jeremy has also eschewed a traditional setting for something with a more updated feel: “It’s broadly 20th century, because we want to make it come alive, for it to be about real people – and gods!” he adds with a chuckle. So while it is a serious opera, we have tried to find some variety and humour in it as well.”
Bampton Opera has always been committed to offering opportunities to young emerging professionals, and this year is no exception. Leading the cast are soprano Ella Taylor as Paris – the role was originally written for male castrato – and Lucy Anderson, first prize winner of the 2019 Bampton Young Singers Competition, as Helen. Both are making their Bampton debuts.
Also making her Bampton debut is the young British/Australian soprano Lauren Lodge-Campbell as Amor (or Cupid), while Lisa Howarth returns to Bampton to sing Pallas Athene, the goddess of wisdom.
There is also a small chorus of just four, and two professional dancers – much to Jeremy’s delight.
The company is also back in its traditional home, the glorious garden at The Deanery, after a change of ownership put a question mark over the company’s continuing use of the venue.
“We’re delighted that we’re back at The Deanery,” says Jeremy. “The new owners have agreed to have us back and seem very welcoming.”
The two performances in Bampton, running from July 23 – 24, come after the official lifting of Covid restrictions, but Jeremy is remaining cautious about the situation and the need to keep everyone safe.
“Our hope is for a good, enthusiastic audience, able to enjoy an open-air performance in a large garden, where there won’t be any problem with social distancing,” he adds.
Gluck’s Paris and Helen is at The Deanery garden on July 23 – 24, in a new translation by Gilly French. Tickets: www.bamptonopera.org. Further performances will be given at The Orangery, Westonbirt (30th August) and St Johns Smith Square, London (24th September).
Bampton’s production of Gluck’s The Crown is available to watch online until 31st August; see the website for details.