Kimonos and karma: Puccini’s Madame Butterfly at Iford

Madame Butterfly enjoys extraordinary popularity today: even people who have never been to an opera in their lives could probably recognise its title. But why? Despite its surface familiarity, it’s a dark, upsetting piece, entirely devoid of romance, brimful of callous manipulation. Above all, its score is a far more challenging, experimental listen than we…

Queen’s dating dilemma: Handel’s Partenope at Iford

Partenope is a perfect comic storm of seduction, jealousy, fidelity and infidelity, gender-bending and downright skulduggery, anchored in the sharp human tension of true love. Many of these tropes are familiar Handel fare, but Partenope is set apart by the unnerving genuineness of its emotional dynamics, which ripple and transform from scene to scene, as the game of…

Escape to the country: Bernstein’s Candide at Iford

This whirling, high-energy collaboration between Iford Arts and Opera Della Luna packs every possible punch in a furiously creative evening of constant costume changes, an endlessly reassembling set, and above all a blazing sense of commitment from Jeff Clarke’s fine cast. Candide’s endless, troubled travels feel like a parable of life itself, as he learns the…

Dark, desperate, magnificent: Handel’s Jephtha, Iford

As Handel wrote Jephtha‘s haunting central chorus, “How dark, O Lord, are thy decrees,” his own sight temporarily failed him, and he had to break off work. Although he would live for another eight years, Jephtha would prove to be Handel’s last oratorio: a disturbing story from the eleventh chapter of the Book of Judges, in which the…

Embracing anew: A Fairy Queen at Iford

Director Timothy Nelson has created a new performing edition of Henry Purcell’s The Fairy Queen for Iford, which picks out the most familiar scenes and divides them into four “Nights” (the Mechanicals’ rehearsal, Oberon and Titania’s quarrel, the human lovers’ confusion, and the Mechanicals’ play), framed by a Prologue and Epilogue. Purcell’s music is not only exquisite, but here is…

Jungle drums beating true: Mozart’s Magic Flute at Iford

Director John Savournin has created a lively, accessible and stripped-down Flute for magical Wiltshire garden opera venue Iford which gives the lovers Tamino and Pamina a clear choice between the superstitious tribal culture of the Queen of the Night, and the humanist ethos of Enlightenment philosophy pioneered by the philosopher-sorcerer Sarastro. Simon Bejer‘s design takes us to the Peruvian rainforest,…

So foul and fair a day: Verdi’s Macbeth at Iford

Macbeth’s turbulent emotions and fierce storms make it ironically ideally suited to an English summer evening, as the clouds gather menacingly overhead (although I managed to stay dry at Iford). Director Bruno Ravella presides over a sophisticated traditional reading which proves faithful to both Shakespeare’s eerie original, and also to Verdi’s passionate protests for Italian…

Power-dressed and power hungry: Handel’s Agrippina at Iford

Bruno Ravella has updated the action of Handel’s Agrippina to the consumerist hell of the 1980s, giving us big hair, shoulder pads, cocaine and ruthlessness in spades. Agrippina, immaculately coiffured and sharply suited, channels Alexis (Joan Collins in Dynasty) as she plots, bargains and schemes to ensure her son, Nerone, is proclaimed heir to Claudio’s…

Getting behind the mask: an intense Un ballo in maschera at Iford

Sung in beautifully clear English, Timothy Nelson’s small-scale production for Iford pulls the audience right inside Verdi’s vortex of emotions which keeps Ballo so gripping from beginning to end. Cricket whites, modest floral dresses, evening dress and cigarettes give a sense of the loucheness, yet residual innocence, of the very early 1920s, while poppies and military…