The Opéra de Baugé, an enterprising British-run summer festival in the Loire, this year offers Die Zauberflöte, Il Trovatore, and a rarity, Schubert’s Alfonso und Estrella.
Schubert produced some 16 operas during his brief, but astonishingly productive life, but none have held the stage. This work’s hero and heroine meet by chance and fall innocently in love, unaware that Alfonso is the son of an exiled king whose usurper is Estrella’s father. It ends with reconciliation and rejoicing all round.
Initially, Schubert seems less concerned with theatrical momentum than with expansive, lyrical vocal lines supported by full-bodied instrumentation. Things come decisively alive after the interval with a substantial scene of anxiety followed by joy as Estrella’s father (Jake Muffett, singing with outstanding authority and definition) and his court await the princess who is missing after a hunting trip. Also striking is a strenuously ferocious aria for the lustful villain Adolfo (the punchy, charcoal-toned Roger Krebs).
As the plot thickens, Alexander Aldren (Alfonso) and Stephanie Edwards (Estrella) also rise to their expressive challenges. At first, they seem underscaled – though always mellifluous, accurate and sympathetic. The fifth principal is the deposed (and incognito) King Froila, sung with warm nobility by Denver Martin Smith. The chorus – primarily young professionals – switch adeptly between incarnations as villagers, courtiers and soldiers.
Schubert’s distinctive genius is perhaps most evident in the orchestra: the graceful wind writing, the string figurations and oscillations between major and minor. Conductor Alexander Ingram ensures the score – conceived on a surprisingly epic scale – unfolds eloquently and with pace.
Directing, Bernadette Grimmett takes the storybook setting at face value, while creating lively stage pictures and rounding out the characters with insight and compassion.