While the Arcola is being refurbished, Grimeborn offers its varied alternative opera festival in a comfortable tent not far from its regular headquarters. One of nine different programmes presented over the course of the three-week event, this double bill consisting of two rarely performed one-acters is effectively staged by Nina Brazier.
Bastien and Bastienne is a pretty but innocuous comedy composed by the 12-year-old Mozart, thought to have been written for a garden party at the Viennese home of Dr Mesmer, who practised magnetic cures widely credited in their day as efficacious. Mesmer may be referred to in the role of the magician Colas, with his parade of Latin tags and a nonsense spell aria, who brings together the two simple lovers after their row. John Savournin excels in a performance founded on a vital baritone and exhibiting considerable stage artistry. Soprano Grace Power charms as lovelorn Bastienne, with tenor David Menezes giving an aptly guilt-ridden account of naughty boy Bastien.
But it’s the second half, the brilliant 1909 comedy Susanna’s Secret by the Italian composer Wolf-Ferrari, which really hits the spot. Susanna’s guilty secret - all too topical today - is that she smokes, a fact she conceals from her husband, Count Gil, who instead suspects a lover. Wolf-Ferrari’s clever, inventive score is skilfully realised on the piano by David Eaton, while soprano Georgia Ginsberg and baritone Christopher Jacklin embody the two central characters persuasively both vocally and dramatically. Reappearing is John Savournin, this time in the silent role of the servant Sante, whom he makes memorable.