Mu­si­cal Des­ti­na­tions

Jeremy Pound tests the wa­ter in this Der­byshire town, where opera rar­i­ties and wan­der­ing roy­als all add a lit­tle colour to the fes­ti­val scene

BBC Music Magazine - - Contents -

Jeremy Pound heads to Bux­ton In­ter­na­tional Fes­ti­val

As I make my way from the sta­tion to­wards the opera house, Mary, Queen of Scots passes me in the other di­rec­tion. ‘Good day to you, Sir,’ she says. I doff my imag­i­nary cap in re­ply. At the opera house it­self, I spy an­other fig­ure with re­gal con­nec­tions. Sit­ting at a ta­ble be­neath the shade of a gazebo is Charles, Ninth Earl Spencer and brother of the late Diana, Princess of Wales. He’s look­ing very re­laxed as he smiles and chats to a small group of ad­mir­ers. Lovely.

No, I’m not hav­ing some odd time-lapse roy­alty dream. I have, in fact, just ar­rived

at the Bux­ton In­ter­na­tional Fes­ti­val – or BIF, as it is fondly re­ferred to – a two week­long cel­e­bra­tion of mu­sic and lit­er­a­ture in this im­mac­u­lately pre­sented Peak Dis­trict town that comes com­plete with all man­ner of fringe per­for­mances and other on-street jol­li­ties. Mary, Queen of Scots is (I pre­sume) an ac­tress in cos­tume; Charles Spencer, who is here to talk about his new book, is very much the real thing.

The town of Bux­ton is fa­mil­iar to many for its spring wa­ter, bot­tles of which line su­per­mar­ket shelves across the UK. With­out it, the place would cer­tainly look very dif­fer­ent. Though Bux­ton’s ori­gins date back to Ro­man times, it was in the 1770s that the fifth Duke of Devon­shire, owner of nearby Chatsworth House, de­cided to stick some of his vast wealth

Bux­ton Opera House is a model of pint­sized per­for­mance venue per­fec­tion

into de­vel­op­ing it into a spa re­sort. His in­vest­ment re­sulted in build­ings such as the Great Sta­bles – later topped by a fine dome – and, in­spired by the fa­mous ex­am­ple in Bath, the Bux­ton Cres­cent.

The Vic­to­ri­ans added the Nat­u­ral Min­eral Baths and the Pump Room, next to which stands St Ann’s Well – a later ad­di­tion from which to­day’s vis­i­tors can help them­selves to a taste of the wa­ter it­self.

And then, in 1903, came Bux­ton

Opera House. Seat­ing around 900 and beau­ti­fully fur­nished, it’s the very model of pint-sized per­for­mance venue per­fec­tion, though hasn’t al­ways been cher­ished as much as it ought. Within a cou­ple of decades of open­ing, it found it­self used as a cin­ema and, by 1976, was in dan­ger of clos­ing com­pletely. Thank­fully, some­one saw sense, and a ma­jor restora­tion saw this fine build­ing re­turned its orig­i­nal pur­pose.

That was 1979, the year of the first ever Bux­ton Fes­ti­val. Along­side Donizetti’s Lu­cia di Lam­mer­moor on the stage on that oc­ca­sion was Maxwell Davies’s The Two Fid­dlers, and the fes­ti­val has con­tin­ued to ex­plore lesser-known works ever since – such as Alzira, Verdi’s rarely staged tale of Peru­vian rev­o­lu­tion­ary der­ring-do, which I en­joy dur­ing my visit. ‘We like to fea­ture undis­cov­ered gems, brand new works and also operas for young peo­ple,’ fes­ti­val CEO Michael Wil­liams tells me. ‘But also, when we do cover pop­u­lar operas, we go for ones in, say, the top 25 that we think could do with a good out­ing rather than the re­ally big-hit­ters – we don’t have plans to stage

La bo­hème or La travi­ata, for in­stance.’

At the 40th-an­niver­sary fes­ti­val this com­ing July, Tchaikovsk­y’s Eugene One­gin will be joined by Of­fen­bach’s Or­pheus in the Un­der­world, Cal­dara’s Lu­cio Papirio Dit­ta­tore and Al­lan Stephen­son’s The Or­phans of Koombu. And then there’s Ge­or­giana, a new pas­tic­cio opera in which the fruity ex­ploits of Ge­or­giana Cavendish, Fifth Duchess of Devon­shire, are re­lived through mu­sic by Mozart, Paisiello, Soler, Lin­ley and Storace.

But BIF is not only about opera.

The fes­ti­val’s lit­er­a­ture strand at­tracts im­pres­sive names, and the pro­gramme of con­certs at St John’s Church and the Pavil­ion Arts Cen­tre is as var­ied as it is imag­i­na­tive. Ei­ther side of my evening at the opera, I treat my­self to two lunchtime con­certs, one of flute, oboe and pi­ano mu­sic, and the other of Amer­i­can songs per­formed by ir­re­press­ible mezzo Lucy Schaufer. 2019’s fes­ti­val, mean­while, will see the likes of pi­anist Imo­gen Cooper, Vo­ces8 and, for the first time ever, the BBC Phil­har­monic pay­ing a visit.

Out­side con­cert and opera time, sim­ply am­bling around and tak­ing in some of the fringe events proves time well spent. I’m par­tic­u­larly taken, for in­stance, with an in­no­va­tive the­atre group’s witty pot­ted guide to Shake­speare plays. Strangely, though, Mary, Queen of Scots, isn’t here to en­joy the hand­i­work of her Tudor-era con­tem­po­rary. She must have headed off, I chuckle to my­self. Ho ho.

Fur­ther in­for­ma­tion: This year’s Bux­ton In­ter­na­tional Fes­ti­val runs from 5-21 July bux­ton­fes­ti­

Rev­o­lu­tion­ary spirit: Verdi’s Alzira comes to the Bux­ton stage, 2018

Sing and spring: Bux­ton Opera House; (be­low) St Ann’s Well

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