Bride & Gloom

St John’s Smith Square, London

Keith Bruce

four stars

LONDON-born Nancy Storace was a huge star of the opera in the time of Mozart, singing at the premiere of his hit The Marriage of Figaro in Vienna in 1786 when she was just 21. She and Irish tenor Michael Kelly also appeared in Gli sposi malcontenti, The Discontented Newly-weds, at the city’s Burgtheater the previous year, which was written by her older brother, Stephen Storace.

Most of Storace’s music has been lost, but Bampton Classical Opera have this year revived his great hit, under the snappier title Bride & Gloom, with a cast that includes two graduates of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s Alexander Gibson Opera School, Caroline Kennedy and Arthur Bruce (declaration of interest). As Scottish Opera gives concert performances of two rare operas – Mascagni’s Zanetto and Wolf-Ferrari’s Susanna’s Secret – at the Lammermuir Festival, here was another forgotten work that was well worth the rediscovery.

Its similarity to the work of Mozart is uncanny, both in plot and characters and musical style, which is not to suggest that the more famous composer was guilty of plagiarism. Characters like Kennedy’s scheming maid Bettina were tropes of the theatre at the time, as were thwarted liaisons, poor disguises and hiding in and behind chairs and in gardens, all of which happen in Bride & Gloom.

If Storace does not have the genius for melody of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, his score is still lively and tuneful and it was immaculately played at St John’s by chamber ensemble Chroma, conducted by Anthony Kraus, who also played the continuo harpsichord. Jeremy Gray’s production was also blessed with a very fine cast, with Jenny Stafford and Aoife O’Sullivan as sisters Eginia (the Nancy Storace role) and Enrichetta, whose love lives are the substance of the plot.

Cleverly staged on a set made from outsized wedges of wedding cake and costumed, by Jess Iliff, in kitsch 70s style, it looked a little like a lost TV sitcom or an Alan Ayckbourn period piece. The small Oxfordshire-based company can be very proud of their inspired revival.