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Georgiana review at Opera House, Buxton – ‘celebratory pasticcio’

The cast of Georgiana at Opera House, Buxton. Photo: Genevieve Girling
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The Italian word pasticcio can mean a number of things, but to 18th-century audiences it meant a sort of musical pudding made up of bits and pieces from other composers and operas brought together to form a new work.

For its major 40th-anniversary commission Buxton produces a new pasticcio, its subject the colourful Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire (1757-1806), who lived nearby at Chatsworth House.

Georgiana caused scandal in her lifetime and several books and films have been devoted to her exploits: now this opera with dialogue by Janet Plater and lyrics by Michael Williams adds to the renown of her gambling, her involvement with politics and politicians and her complex and long-lasting ménage a trois with her husband the Duke and Lady Elizabeth Foster.

Conductor Mark Tatlow has sought out music by Georgiana’s contemporaries – Mozart and a couple of English composers among them – whose music she could have known. The result is an extraordinary entertainment that celebrates what an exceptional woman Georgiana was.

Samantha Clarke revels in the manifold opportunities offered by the title role – with a substantial and difficult Mozart concert aria a highlight. Benjamin Hulett makes something surprisingly sympathetic of her flummoxed husband the Duke, while Susanna Fairbairn exudes warmth and compassion as her loving companion, Bess.

Katherine Aitken draws a delicate portrait of Earl Grey (of tea fame) – another of Georgiana’s lovers. Geoffrey Dolton and Aled Hall form a pitch-perfect double act as the playwright (and scandalmonger) Sheridan and the politician (and scandalmonger) Charles Fox, and are a complete hoot.

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Buxton celebrates its 40th anniversary, and a remarkable local woman, in an entertaining new pasticcio