English composer Stephen Storace was a contemporary and friend of Mozart, and his 1785 opera Gli Sposi Malcontenti contains all the essential ingredients of a Mozartian opera buffa: an unhappily married couple, a controlling father, night-time garden assignations, and characters hiding behind furniture.
The opera, receiving its second modern production from Bampton Opera, with the clever English title of Bride and Gloom, is a charmer. Storace’s sparkling score makes one regret that relatively little of his music has survived and nearly compensates for the fact he did not have a librettist of the calibre of Mozart’s Lorenzo da Ponte.
The Bampton team makes the most of this rarity, beginning with a well-directed and energetic cast and the fine musical direction of conductor Anthony Kraus. The high spirits are kept up even as inclement weather on opening night forced the entire production to abandon the outdoor stage, and its wedding cake props in favour of a nearby church.
As the miserable couple, Jenny Stafford and Gavan Ring are at their most compelling in solo arias that bemoan their marital fate. Aoife O’Sullivan as Enrichetta and Arthur Bruce as Artidoro provide light-hearted relief. Tapping more deeply into the opera’s humorous vein are Adam Tunnicliffe as Valente, a scheming scholar in pursuit of Enrichetta, and Caroline Kennedy as the faithful if frustrated servant Bettina. Robert Davies is sufficiently stern as the censorious father Rosmondo.
There’s no obvious reason for the cast to wear 1970s-era clothing, but costume designer Jess Iliff has made some amusing, period-perfect choices, especially with Bettina’s huge plastic glasses, Artidoro’s boxy, beige leisure suit and Valente’s Jerry Lewis-like nerd get-up, complete with a pocket protector.
The witty English translation by Brian Trowell has clearly been customised for the occasion and with the paper-thin plot, why not?