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When opera came to Hungerford

Music Troupe: The Duchess of Padua at Croft Hall, Hungerford, on Sunday, March 10


Duchess of Padua Pic: Claire Shovelton
Duchess of Padua Pic: Claire Shovelton

FOR the ninth performance, sponsored by the Greenham Trust, of Edward Lambert’s ‘parlour opera’ The Duchess of Padua based on Oscar Wilde’s five-act tragedy, there was a buzz of excitement at the Croft Hall, where a dark scene was set for dark deeds.

Illuminated by projected images, the drama was propelled by a virtuosic piano duet accompaniment, expertly delivered by Alex Norton and Adrian Salinero, and elaborated upon by commentary from the excellent quartet of vocal soloists who doubled as a Greek chorus.

The action unfolds around Guido, who is urged by Moranzone to avenge his father, killed by the Duke of Padua, and Beatrice, his unhappy Duchess.

Anne Elizabeth Cooper, mezzo, was emotionally communicative as Guido, who, as a man, has choice, but cannot bring himself to take action. The Duchess, the embodiment of Woman, constrained by society and oppressed by her abusive and controlling husband, acts, but thereby destroys herself. Ellie Neate (Beatrice) was sure and brilliant in a range of moods – hesitant, defiant, melting and aggressive. James Beddoe (Duke) was a truly despicable villain, his lip curling as he delivered a virtuosic tirade on honesty and friendship. The mysterious, threatening Maranzone (Henry Grant Kerswell) was a commanding presence.

Lambert’s demanding lines were beautifully sung, in tune and with intelligible words, and the stylised action had more impact than a direct representation might have achieved.

In writing more than a dozen chamber operas, Lambert aims to prove that opera need not be “elitist, expensive and stuck in the past”.

His Duchess is a modern triumph, rich with allusions to mainstream opera, layered with meaning and gripping throughout.

His use of limited resources is masterly, with particularly telling sparing use of the piano at moments of high emotion.

His substantial essay for the programme invited us to delight in the beauty of the human voice. We certainly heard beautiful singing, most memorably in the duets between Guido and Beatrice.

This was a performance of the first rank, at village hall prices, so could not be more accessible.

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