That Shakespeare story of reluctant love has a tragic subplot – the mistaken jealousy of a bridegroom – but Berlioz sweeps that away in Béatrice et Bénédict and fixes solely on the growling lovers of the title, who only become the ideal couple we can see they could be with the help of interfering and mischievous friends.
Director and designer Laurent Pelly takes his cue from Berlioz, and keeps the mood buoyant, not with froth and frills, but with the musical equivalent of a shopping trip on the Rive Gauche.
Boxes gigantic, minuscule and all sizes in between make up the set, from the plain lidded musical boxes that open to reveal the chorus, to the black lacquer case that conceals a bustling musical director, to the manuscript- and mirror-lined cabinet that encloses an infinity of wedding dresses. Even the hilarious dining scene shoots out of a crate.
Within and around these simple forms in 50 shades of grey wind the comical chorus, dipping and bobbing like skittles, chic as mannequins in their New Look dresses, fidgeting like wagtails when they are meant to be singing a stuffy wedding song.
The opera opens with the victorious homecoming of the troops, among them Bénédict (a dogged Paul Appleby), to the fury of Beatrice, a beanstalk harpie with the awkward lurch of Olive Oyl. Stéphanie d'Oustrac as Béatrice never lets her rigidity melt until the swift happy ending, investing her voice with a steely mesh. Like the largely Francophone cast she rattles brilliantly through Berlioz's dialogue, a hurdle that partly accounts for ithe opera being very rarely performed, but here sharpened to a point by Agathe Mélinand.
Sophie Karthäuser is the sweet-voiced happier bride Hero, and Serbian mezzo-soprano Katarina Bradic her appealing companion Ursule, the two women's contemplative nocturnal duet at the end of Act One a musical highlight of the piece, before they fling themselves backwards into a nest of bridal tulle.
Ah yes, the music. Well, there is some, not a lot, but the ensemble numbers are the nicely crafted pieces acquired on this Parisian shopping spree, and the few arias are very desirable little items. But this is a classic Glyndebourne hit in which middling material is rendered marvellous by witty and intelligent design, direction and company work.
Antonello Manacorda, replacing an indisposed Robin Ticciati, draws from the London Philharmonic Orchestra the colours and textures for which Berlioz, the great orchestrator, is famous. And there is some nice business with the in-stage musical buffoon Somarone (Lionel Lhote).
Director Pelly, whose is responsible for the sophisticated costume designs too, has pulled this off before, with the entrancing L'Enfant et les Sortileges, also for Glyndebourne, in 2012 and revived last year. He's the man who gave us living wallpaper, and now singing musical boxes, and I for one can't wait to see what he does next.
|What||Béatrice et Bénédict review , Glyndebourne Festival Opera|
|Where||Glyndebourne, Lewes, East Sussex, BN8 5UU | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Victoria (underground)|
23 Jul 16 – 27 Aug 16, 12 performances
|Website||Click here for further information and booking|