Running from the 5th until the 21st of July 2013, this year marks the 35th anniversary of the Buxton Festival. Internationally recognized as one of the principal arts festivals in the UK, the Buxton Festival celebrates classical music, opera and literature and is set in the beautiful surrounds of the Peak District.
The festival specialises in bringing to light little-known operatic rarities, often including works by some of the most famous composers. Alongside these rarely performed pieces, the programme also comprises of a number of guest productions, featuring some of the most promising up-and-coming as well as internationally established artists and literary figures. Housed within the beautiful Buxton Opera House, designed by Frank Matcham, one of Britain’s finest theatre architects, the two-week festival schedule is packed with delightful cultural treats to surprise and entertain.
This year, artistic director and conductor Stephen Barlow has selected two 19th-century French comic operas, La Princesse Jaune and La Colombe, by Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns and Charles-François Gounod, respectively. The two stories both concern frustrated love affairs which end happily, and have been cleverly paired together on stage as a double-bill by placing them in adjacent apartments, one beneath the other, in 1890′s Paris.
Saint-Saëns’ La Princesse Jaune, first performed in 1872, is a satire on the popularity for all things Japanese that was prevalent at the time. The production really shines from being spoken and sung in French, with conductor Barlow directing the Northern Chamber Orchestra with dexterity and eloquence, making the most of Saint-Saëns’ charming score, brilliantly punctuated with amusing faux Japanese-style movements.
Through a feat of stage engineering during the interval, the attic studio is rather miraculously elevated to a higher level to accommodate a large, enchantingly lit apartment for Gounod’s La Colombe (1866). The whole production is played exquisitely, with Barlow reinstating the Poulenc recitatives, commissioned by Sergei Diaghilev, to replace the spoken dialogue of the original and the sheer tunefulness of Gounod’s score is a delight to hear led by Barlow’s expert, light-touch.
All in all, Buxton is a wonderful festival to attend. Although it doesn’t have the glamour of the Italian or French versions where thousand-pound cocktail dresses and Dior sunglasses seem de rigueur, you’ll still see the great and the good of British society there, and it’s a fantastic thing to experience.