The Way of the World: William Congreve

The Way of the World

★★★★

(Donmar Warehouse, 25 May 2018)

Midway through last week, I saw that Kerstin had posted on Facebook about William Congreve’s The Way of the World, first performed in 1700 and now playing in Covent Garden once again, this time in the cosy Donmar Warehouse. I was sorely tempted, as I hadn’t seen a Restoration comedy for years. By chance there was a single seat left on Friday night; and so off I went, for a thoroughly self-indulgent evening of belles, beaux, dastardly rakes, romantic dowagers, wicked stratagems and – I devoutly hoped – virtue rewarded. Although it sometimes proved difficult to fathom exactly who was gulling whom at any given moment, I had a wonderful time, savouring the dazzling costumes and the accomplished cast, who brought out all the sparkle of Congreve’s elegant wit.

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The Judgement of Paris: Thomas Arne (1742)

Bernstein: The Judgement of Paris

(Brook Street Band at St George’s Hanover Square, 6 April 2018)

Some of you may remember that I saw Thomas Arne’s pastoral comedy The Judgement of Paris two summers ago, in the beautiful rectory garden at Bampton. This production for the London Handel Festival may have lacked the bucolic surroundings, but it made up for it in the quality of the cast, which marshalled a real dream team of young British singers. Yet the evening had a surprise in store: a bit of audience interaction, which pitted Arne directly against Handel and treated us to some highlights from the older composer’s Semele. Both The Judgement of Paris and Semele were based on libretti by William Congreve, whose sprightly, slightly rakish poetry still raises smiles.

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Divine Comedies: Christoph Willibald Gluck and Thomas Arne

Divine Comedies: Bampton Classical Opera

(Bampton Classical Opera, 22 July 2016)

Philemon & Baucis (Gluck)  ·  The Judgement of Paris (Arne)

On a warm summer evening, the village of Bampton in Oxfordshire is almost indecently beautiful. The golden stone glows in the sunlight, the leaves look even greener against blue skies dotted with fluffy clouds, and flocks of swifts dart at dusk around the church tower. But one thing sets the village apart from its Cotswold rivals. Every summer, the Deanery garden is transformed by an outdoor stage and Bampton Classical Opera put on productions of lesser-known Baroque music. Past years have featured a wealth of tantalising rarities and this season saw the performance of two one-act operas, given the overall heading Divine Comedies: first, Gluck’s Philemon and Baucis and, second, Arne’s Judgement of Paris.

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Semele: George Frideric Handel (1744)

Handel: Semele

★★★½

(Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, 10 March 2015)

Let the London Handel Festival commence! Things got underway in suitably regal style at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, with a tale of divine seduction and boundless ambition that bore a moralistic coda: be careful what you wish for.

Nature to each allots his proper sphere, But that forsaken,
we like meteors err: 
Toss’d through the void, by some rude
shock we’re broke, 
And all our boasted fire is lost in smoke.

(Chorus: Act 3, Scene 7)

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