Bastien and Bastienne, Mozart and Salieri, Royal Opera House, Linbury Studio, October 2012

This double bill by the Jette Parker Young Artists was a delight.

Bastien and Bastienne is a singspiel written by Mozart in 1768 when he was just 12 years old. It is based on a one-act opera Le devin du village by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and deals with two lovers who are brought together by the local devin (soothsayer). Rousseau’s work was produced in 1752, appeared in Vienna in 1755 and was translated into German in 1764 and used in children’s theatre.

Colas talks to Bastienne, all images ROH/ Richard Hubert Smith

The story is that Bastien, strongly sung here by David Butt Philip, has had a dalliance with an attractive woman portrayed by Justina Gringyte in a sexy red dress. Dušica Bijelić as Bastienne, advised by Jihoon Kim as the soothsayer Colas wins him back by feigning indifference. Ms Bijelić sang very well and played her role with panache, while Jihoon Kim sang a very fine bass-baritone. The German diction was good from everyone and strikingly good from David Philip Butt. The production use of railway tracks was rather a good idea, and conducting by Michele Gamba gave a powerful feel for Mozart’s music.

All’s well that ends well

Mozart and Salieri is based on a text by Pushkin written in 1830, five years after Salieri’s death. Rimsky-Korsakov turned this into a short opera in 1897, and at its first performance Salieri was sung by the famous Russian bass Shalyapin. Here this strong baritone role was brilliantly sung by Ashley Riches, with Pablo Bemsch contrasting well in the light tenor role of Mozart. The music contains echoes of FigaroDon Giovanni, and towards the end Mozart’s Requiem.

Ashley Riches as Salieri

The amusing incident of a badly played and out of tune violin, which one of Salieri’s friends used to poke fun at Mozart — though the trick was roundly dismissed by Salieri — was an entertaining interlude, much appreciated by members of the orchestra. On-stage this was mimicked by a puppet representing Mozart, which we saw lying sideways centre stage at the start. Then at the end Mozart himself lay in exactly the same position. These were clever aspects of this simple but excellent production by Pedro Ribeiro. Designs by Ribeiro and Sophie Mosberger worked well, and I loved Warren Letton’s lighting, particularly at the end of Mozart and Salieri.

Altogether this was a thoroughly good evening, with music played by the Southbank Sinfonia, and the high point was the superb voice and excellent Russian diction of Ashley Riches, as Salieri. Not to be missed.

There are two further performances on Friday at 1 pm. and 7 pm. — for details click here.

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