What a cracking start to the shiny new Vache Baroque Festival which kicked off with an enchanting production of Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. And a double dose of September showers did nothing to dampen the audience’s spirits. We were more than delighted to tuck into the one-hour Baroque fancy in the grounds of this glorious Buckinghamshire estate, come rain or shine.
The Vache Baroque Festival is the brainchild of Betty Makharinsky and Jonathan Darbourne who wanted to provide a new type of country house opera with baroque music at its core. By presenting productions from the known baroque canon alongside more obscure works, Vache Baroque hopes to attract a younger and more diverse audience to this seventeenth-century style of music. Although the inaugural festival only included two performances of Dido and Aeneas, the aim is to increase the season next year.
We were seated in a semi-circle facing the Vache façade, a house which dates back to Purcell’s time. The musical direction was by Darbourne and Vache co-founder soprano Makharinsky took on the role of Belinda. The excellent direction was by Thomas Guthrie, and an instrumental period ensemble of six gave a thrilling performance despite the rain which sometimes threatened the precious instruments.
The choreography was by Ukweli Roach with two members of his dance company, Bird Gang, performing. It was sensational. I was transfixed by dancers Ajani Johnson-Goffe and Laura Braid who provided alluring routines from seventeenth century baroque to twenty-first century contemporary. I would have happily tucked into an entire evening of Bird Gang with these two in the dancing seat.
Katie Bray, winner of the Dame Joan Sutherland Audience Prize at Cardiff Singer of the World 2019, led the cast as Dido, Queen of Carthage. Her anguished lament was a showstopper and well worth the wait. Designer Ruth Paton gave our tragic queen several catwalk ensembles from glamorous biker chick to regal diva.
Despite a distinct Russian accent, Makharinsky delivered a crystalline Belinda (she’s also a fine actress). She was joined by baritone Jolyon Loy as Aeneas and James Geidt as the Sorcerer. Rory Carver’s Sailor provided most of the laughs out loud. A 13 year-old Alex Rigo McSweeney cast his magical spell on us as the Spirit. Angela Hicks as Second Woman was colourful and articulate, having provided us with an excellent pre-opera taster in the garden.
I had my first dose of operatic cackling (sounds odd but the cast pulled it off and in unison) and I could have sworn the Vache birds sitting in ancient trees were accompanying the ensemble. Then again, it could have been a clever piece of musical direction.
It was an intimate performance with just the right dose of sensuality and sparkle. This remarkable production of Dido and Aeneas was a truly noteworthy launch pad for what I hope will be the first of many operas by Vache Baroque Festival.
About Vache Baroque Festival
We were encouraged to come three hours before the opera start time in order to enjoy a picnic as well as pre-show entertainment. These included an installation by sound artist Dan Samsa from speakers positioned around the estate.
You can bring your own picnic or pre-order one from the festival. We brought picnic chairs, but some people perched on the garden benches. There was a bar selling alcohol, as well as soft drinks and bar snacks. Dress code is smart casual. Don’t forget to pack a brolly and a blanket.
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