THERE was a great sigh of relief when Iford Arts director Judy Egglington announced that the organisation would continue, in spite of losing the idyllic venue where it had operated for the first 25 years of its life.
The first year of the “new” Iford is, inevitably, a bit of an experiment, with opera at Bath Guildhall as part of the city’s International Music Festival, and later in the season at the new 2019 venue, Belcombe Court in Bradford-on-Avon.
The Bath performances featured the irrepressibly twinkling Simon Butteriss narrating his own (spoken) and John Mortimer’s (sung) version of Johan Strauss’s ever-popular confection as the lawerly Dr Blind, with Nadine Benjamin as Rosalind, Emily Vine as a charming Adele and Charli Baptie, best known as a music theatre performer, as a nicely arch Orlofsky. They were joined by tenor Robin Bailey as the lusty Alfred and Toby Stafford-Allen as Eisenstein, a man whose romantic desires matched his capacity for vodka, leading a strong cast which included Iford alumni in the chorus.
Performed in the Guildhall’s Banqueting Hall, the audience enjoyed a very different experience Iford’s traditional in-the-round intimacy.
This story of a flagging marriage, fetching alternative suitors, confusion, cross dressing, improbable legal shenanigans and all the fizz of Strauss’s Vienna was glitteringly directed (by the multi-talented Mr Butteriss, an Iford favourite) under the magnificent chandeliers of the Georgian room where Jane Austen promenaded.
The Iford Chamber Ensemble, conducted from the piano by Oliver Gooch, made sparkling work of the familiar score.
Poor Emily Vine had her terrific big number brought to a mystifying end by an alarm, which most of the audience thought was a sound effect relating to Eisenstein’s call to prison, but was in fact caused by a faulty sensor in the refrigeration room.After a brief evacuation of the building and the arrival of the fire brigade, followed by the demolition of a faulty lighting tower, the opera came to its charmingly frothy finale (and ran rather more according to plan on the second night!)
The first Guildhall evening began with a reception at which Iford New Generation artists performed pop-up arias for the guests, entertaining with the Cat Duet, When I Marry Mr Snow and a touch of Mozart.
Iford Arts now moves to its Belcombe Court venue, where four performances of L’Elisir d’Amore in a specially constructed geodesic dome, providing a performance in the round, but with twice the capacity of the Iford Manor cloister. A few seats remain for the week nights in the first week of September. Contact Iford Arts for more information.