For three successive days this week, I’ve driven the lovely road from Lichfield across the Derbyshire border to Ashbourne and then along the roof of England through the High Peak, to Buxton, and its annual Festival. Its a trip I’ve long wanted to make (impossible before acquiring a car), and it was well rewarded – and not just because it’s a town full of antique and book shops, faded Edwardian spa facilities and unpretentious Regency architecture. I was there to review three of the Festival’s opera productions: a better-than-expected Verdi Giovanna d’Arco, a disappointing Donizetti Lucia di Lammermoor and…and…Louise, lovely Louise.
I’ve hankered after seeing this mouthwatering great slice of verismo a la Francaise since the day I read the description in (of all things) Gerhard von Westermann’s Opera Guide. Saki used it as a punchline in his own short story Louise – proof of just how popular it was in the years before the Great War. I had a feeling that Gustave Charpentier’s heroine and I would hit it off when I finally encountered her live (the last UK staging was in 1981, when, aged 8, I don’t think my 15p weekly pocket money would have run to a ticket) and here at last she was. OK, admittedly it was a concert performance (and how I wish they’d ditched the Donizetti – I mean, this’ll be my 4th different Donizetti production this year – and staged this instead), but as any music lover knows, the difference between listening to a CD and hearing anything live is that between splashing in a paddling-pool and swimming in the sea.
The result: I’m now obsessed. I’ve a brand new special-favourite opera. By ‘eck, it’s gorgeous. Any critic who says otherwise (and especially if they’ve recently bent over backwards to insist that some freshly-exhumed bel canto turkey is a neglected masterpiece) is just wrong. Entitled to their opinion, but wrong. So there.
Possibly my enthusiasm coloured my review of the Buxton Festival for The Arts Desk: you tell me.