30 Years of Bampton Classical Opera - Display Boards

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Bampton Community Archive, Summer 2023 Exhibition


We are delighted that Edward Gardner has agreed to be Honorary Patron for our 30th season. Edward is Principal Conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Chief Conductor of the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra and Music Director-elect of the Norwegian Opera and Ballet. He was Music Director of English National Opera 2007-15.

Patrons: Bonaventura Bottone, Brian Kay, Sir Roger Norrington, Andrew Parrott, Sir David Pountney, Sir Curtis Price, Jean Rigby

Trustees: Hilary Reid Evans (chairman), Gilly French, Nicholas Garthwaite, Jeremy Gray, Andrew Penny, Damian Riddle, Michael St John-Parker.

Edward conducting Mozart’s Waiting for Figaro for Bampton Classical Opera in 2002 (rehearsal photo).
“In modern comic opera one sometimes has to wing it – if it’s too absurd to say it, then sing it!”
(from Paisiello’s The Barber of Seville)
www.bamptonopera.org Registered in England and Wales company number 3705788; Registered charity number 1080541 www.bamptonarchive.org


The company originated with a one-off performance on Saturday 17th July 1993, created by Bampton couple Gilly French and Jeremy Gray. Gilly, a singer, dreamed of performing the role of Galatea in Handel’s pastoral ‘masque’ Acis and Galatea, and Jeremy was a committee member for the West Oxfordshire Arts Association which fortuitously was then considering branching out from its traditional concentration on the visual arts. Thus was born ‘Bampton Summer Opera’, in the charming garden of the historic Deanery, adjacent to the church. The mythological story of Acis and Galatea is a delight - one of Handel’s masterpieces and a significant foundation of English-language opera.

The Bampton production was simplicity itself – no stage, minimal props (although including some spectacular fireworks), hired Baroque costumes, four soloists, a 13-strong chorus and an orchestra of 14. Performers were a mixture of professional and amateur, and the whole event had a pleasantly homespun quality. A bar was supplied by a local vineyard, lighting and front-of-house facilities were enthusiastically provided by local volunteers, especially members of the Bampton Drama Group who proved such a support in the early years. The ambition was that the event would be relaxed and accessible, so no seating was provided: the audience were asked to bring garden chairs and picnics if they liked. Rain would have been a problem, but the church was primed as an alternative, and the weather turned out balmy and calm. The garden acoustic was deemed to be excellent. The village was curious and provided an enthusiastic audience, and one gentleman reckoned it was “the best evening of his life.” Thanks to small-scale sponsorship and donations, attracted by the WOAA committee and especially by the hard work of its chairman Trevor Milne-Day, there was even a small profit, although tickets were priced at a modest £10. The critic from the Oxford Times was (mostly) complimentary. When it was over, everyone breathed a big sigh of relief, especially the WOAA committee, and life returned to normal - until some rashly began to ask “what are you doing next?”

And so here we still are, thirty years later: we’ve remained a small-scale concern, much dependent on the vital help of local volunteers, but we became a professional company with the very strongest national, indeed international, reputation.

(A fuller account of the early years is given in the book which accompanies this exhibition)

Audience relaxing before the first performance at the Deanery, 17 July 1993 Poster for Acis and Galatea Gilly French and Jeremy Gray in the Deanery garden. The neo-classical Ionic capital inspired the original Bampton Classical Opera logo. [photo: James Rose, 2018] From the first programme leaflet John Virgoe (Acis), Gilly French (Galatea), dress rehearsal Gilly French (Galatea), performance. The classical sculpture was manufactured with papier-mâché from a shop mannequin – christened ‘Barbie’, she appeared in several early operas Chorus and orchestra, performance Peter Johnson (Polyphemus), dress rehearsal


In the late 1990s as the company began to evolve, we realised that we needed a distinctive ‘voice’, characteristics which might help build a reputation, create audiences, and mark us out as a small company to watch. Growing confidence and a sense that we were appreciated spurred us on. We identified a niche in the market that we could fill – whilst Baroque period opera was well explored there seemed less interest in the operas of the ‘classical’ period (c1740-c1800) other than the inevitable presence of Mozart. We began to be excited by the possibilities of performing rare ‘classical’ period works and a sense of long-term purpose.

Administrative and financial issues also needed addressing and in 1999-2000 we took the significant step of becoming incorporated as a registered Company and Charity. This valuably enhanced our potential for fundraising and our organisational efficiency.

The company’s charitable Object set out in its constitution was, and is, “to advance education for the public benefit by the promotion of the arts, in particular but not exclusively the art of opera”. To put this into practice, we evolved three main ambitions:

- to present a high standard of opera and other concerts at reasonable prices, in both rural and urban venues

- to support the development of the most talented young professional singers and other artists early in their careers

- to perform rare works of the classical period, sung in English.

We have always wanted to maintain ticket prices at a reasonable level and to avoid becoming an ‘elitist’ company for the wealthy, although this necessitates considerable fundraising. Opera is historically the most expensive of the performing arts – a production at Bampton, for example, involves professional payments to around 30 – 40 musicians, the hire of staging, lights, marquees and portaloos, the creation of scenery and costumes, the promotional costs of publicity and PR, plus all the invisible costs of banking, insurance and much else. Our ticket price only covers one-third of our costs, and the rest must be raised from supportive donors and grants. Fundraising is an arduous task each year, although the growth and loyalty of our Friends organisation has helped keep us afloat, including through the trauma of the pandemic year. We are so grateful to everyone who donates and helps us to continue producing outstanding music.

“the acme of the picnic-with-opera experience for non-plutocrats… and finding the cream of up-and-coming singers and musicians” (Classical Music)

"invariably slick, always cleverly imaginative....terrific value for money" (Opera Now)

“Ploughing a jovial furrow of forgotten 18th-century repertoire, and in the process unearthing some real gems… and performing them … for some of the best ticket-prices available in England, Bampton has punched far above its weight in giving a first break to singers and conductors who now have world reputation.” (Opera Now)

Jane Haughton and Amanda Pitt, in Gluck’s Orpheus and Euridice 1996 The changing company logos 1994-2020 Kate Elliott and Amanda Pitt, in Arne’s Alfred, 1998 Paisiello’s Nina, 1999
1994 1998 2000 2020
Amanda Pitt, Catherine Hamilton, Benjamin Hulett, in Storace’s The Comedy of Errors 2000


Bampton Classical Opera has been fortunate from the very start to be able to perform in the lovely Deanery garden, which is undoubtedly one of the greatest draws for our regular audiences. Deirdre and George Dudley (in 1993), Linda and Peter Ferstendik (from 1994 to 2019) and Nicki and Eric Armitage (since 2021) have been our generous hosts for an annual invasion which lasts about a week. Delivery of the stage is followed by the scenery, lights, tents back-stage and front-of-house, portaloos, bar, and of course musicians and instruments. The four days leading up the performances see a busy schedule of work and rehearsals, although carefully laid timetables need to be flexible to cope with whatever weather is thrown at us. The proximity of St Mary’s provides the security of a wet-weather alternative if required and, if the sun and heat become too much, the cool of the church is also welcome.

The great charm of the Deanery garden is praised by press critics and the acoustic is remarkably clear. We build the stage in front of the curved yew-hedge which creates a convenient back-stage area, where we place marquees for the performers. The orchestra is covered by a large tent placed ‘stage left’, that is to say, at the right of the stage as the audience sees it. This necessitates the conductor being unconventionally towards the side rather than centrally as in a theatre with an orchestra pit, and this position is taken into consideration when the director plans movement on stage.

At Bampton we have never provided seating for the audience, deciding in 1993 on the informality of garden chairs – regular attenders appear to relish the process of arriving with chairs and maybe a picnic table, and setting up where they like in the garden. It is very much part of our relaxed ethos. We open the gates early so that audience can picnic if they wish. Picnics can be ordered in advance, and there is a well-stocked bar at very reasonable prices. Many audience attend the free pre-performance talk in the church which is always appreciated for giving insights about what makes the opera special.

The Deanery was the medieval home for the Bishops of Exeter, or rather their agents when visiting the parish. The house is now mostly 16th-17th century, but is built over the remains of a 12th century (Norman) chapel. We are very privileged to perform there.

“Last, but one of my favourites, is the least formal and least expensive of the lot, the eccentric set-up at Bampton where Jeremy Gray and Gilly French have been putting on 18th century rarities in the Deanery garden, a perfect little spot beneath the golden stone of a Cotswold church tower.” (Robert Thicknesse, in The Times)

The beautiful Deanery and garden
After the show
The audience arrives Pre-performance relaxation Gaynor, John and Pauline at the welcoming bar Andrew Hichens, once a chorus member, now happy as audience Gilly French, Artistic Director Ann-Margret attending to make-up Before the performance: Mozart’s La finta semplice, 2013 Marcos Portugal’s Marriage of Figaro 2010 After the show


BCO has performed at Westonbirt School, near Tetbury, Gloucestershire, annually since 2000, invited at first through the enthusiastic invitation of the then Headmistress, Mary Henderson. This grandiose Victorian building with its vast and impressive surrounding gardens and estate makes a spectacular opera setting and draws audiences from Bath, Bristol, Cheltenham and South Wales. The famous Arboretum, on the other side of the A433, was originally part of the same estate, and the school grounds are equally studded with magnificent trees. The house was built 1863-70 for the fabulously wealthy Robert Holford, and designed in an elaborate ‘neo-Jacobethan’ style by Lewis Vulliamy: it was one of the most expensive and elaborate country houses of its era.

Bampton’s usual performance date there is the late Bank Holiday Monday at the end of August. Although we used to perform on the terrace outside the noble arched windows of the former Orangery, in recent years we have used the interior theatre with its large stage. After many experiments with the tricky acoustics, we have settled on placing the orchestra on the stage behind the singers and scenery. With the players partly visible to the audience, this emphasises the partnership in opera between voices and instruments. Although the conductor is behind the singers, a video link relays him to large monitors placed behind the audience.

Westonbirt has a magnificent sequence of rooms – we use the library for the always well-attended pre-performance talk, and audiences can picnic in the extensive gardens or, if preferred, in the ornately decorated dining rooms. The ‘Italian garden’ is well worth a visit. Westonbirt performances generally start at 5pm, with a 75-minute picnic interval during the opera.

The evening sun catching the north front Romeo and Juliet (rehearsal photograph, 2007) on the Orangery Terrace Audience interval picnics Gilly French, Anne and Andrew Hichens, and picnics Audience interval picnics The beautiful Italian garden Rehearsal coffee for the performers, in the Great Hall The option of indoor picnics in one of the impressive dining rooms Pre-performance talk in the Library Bride & Gloom, 2019 Paris and Helen, 2020


St John’s Smith Square is one of London’s very finest Baroque buildings, designed by Thomas Archer and completed in 1728. Situated close to the Houses of Parliament, it was nicknamed ‘Queen Anne’s footstool’ because of a disparaging remark made by the Queen, likening its extravagant corner towers to her upturned footstool. Gutted by bombing in 1941, it was at risk of demolition, but was restored as a concert hall in the 1960s. It is a building with a magnificent presence. Bampton has performed operas at St John’s annually since 2002, with occasional additional concerts, and its massive and noble 18th-century pillars and impressive chandeliers create an appropriate setting for our music. One of London’s best-known concert halls, it is notable for its beautiful acoustic.

After some early experiments, we settled on placing the orchestra on the terraced platforms behind the front stage. The unconventional placing of the conductor behind the singers is solved by a video relay system to monitors within the hall. Our staged operas there are always enhanced by the striking lighting effects created by our wonderful technician Ian Chandler. The downstairs crypt provides an excellent venue for pre-performance meals and interval drinks.

Trofonio’s Cave, 2015 Philemon and Baucis, 2016 The School of Jealousy, 2017 The School of Jealousy, 2017 Curtain call for the otherwise hidden CHROMA Ensemble The orchestral tiers, behind the scenery, 2018


Growing ambition led us to seek new venues – and gradually new venues and festivals have sought us. Westonbirt School became a regular venue from 2000, and St John’s Smith Square, London from 2002 (see separate displays).

Two major theatre venues were important for us in the period 2002 to 2012. The Bath Shakespeare Festival invited us to perform twice (Storace, The Comedy of Errors and Salieri Falstaff) in the magnificent Theatre Royal, and the prestigious Buxton Festival invited us four times with major productions in the sumptuous Buxton Opera House, perhaps our most exciting experiences. We added to our London profile with three concerts in the renowned Wigmore Hall, and one in the Purcell Room at the Southbank, as well as some smaller London venues. In 2009 we were invited to stage a double-bill by Gluck and Mozart for the Cheltenham International Festival in the Pump Room. We’ve appeared several times in Oxford’s historic Holywell Music Room, and also in Lincoln College and SJE Arts. We’ve staged operas for the English Haydn Festival in Bridgnorth, the Thaxted Festival, the Wantage Concert Club, for Bury Court Opera in Hampshire and the Northern Aldborough Festival in Yorkshire (where we are returning in June 2023). Nearer to home we’ve performed concerts in Cote Chapel.

Especially enjoyable have been two country house venues –a wonderful Lutyens house in Hampshire where we took four productions for a private party, and especially Wotton House in Buckinghamshire where we took seven productions for the impressive concert series run by the retired diplomat owner David Gladstone.

In Bampton, past and present owners at Cobb House have generously welcomed us many times for post-performance parties (as also at Woods House and Little Place) and for events for our Friends; the garden was the venue for our (inevitably reduced) ‘lockdown’ performance in August 2000 – just one singer with harpsichord, and 30 socially-distanced audience.

In September 2022, having been kindly invited to use Weald Manor many times for orchestral rehearsals, we were delighted to give a garden performance (Handel’s Clori, Tirsi e Fileno); we also took this production to the Music at Breinton series in Woking, and we inaugurated a lovely new barn venue at Wadhurst, Sussex (where we will return later in 2023).

Bampton audience arriving at Buxton Opera House, 2011 Wotton House, Buckinghamshire, 2015 London posters Location of past BCO venues Handel performance at Weald Manor, Bampton, 2022 Tables laid for postperformance dining at Wotton House


Emma Stannard and Susanna Fairbairn, Handel performance at Breinton Concert performance, Gluck The Crown, University Church Oxford, 2021 Emma Stannard and Caroline Taylor, Handel performance at Weald Manor, Bampton, 2022 The Barber of Seville on stage at Buxton Festival, 2005 The Marriage of Figaro on stage at Buxton Festival, 2012 The relaxed Bampton atmosphere at Music at Breinton, Woking, 2022


The Italian word opera means ‘works’ – and attempting to stage an opera certainly involves massive work, of the labour type. It usually takes about a year to plan a production and to raise necessary funds – a year inevitably punctuated by periods of stress, disappointments, relentless hard work and, ultimately we hope, joy. The motivation is the anticipation of performances which inspire, enlighten and – in often undefinable ways – enhance people’s lives.

The first task is the choice of opera – we mull over ideas for months, even years, as we sift through a shortlist of possibilities and assess what is feasible and affordable. Scale of the work, its length, vocal and orchestral forces required, scenic demands, entertainment value, story-line, and of course musical quality and interest are all criteria to be considered. The starting point is usually our bookshelves, especially the Viking Guide to Opera and the Groves Encyclopedia of Opera. Because Bampton specialises in rare operas, these are often unpublished: we have had to drop many a choice because of the difficulty of tracking down any music. We may need to organise a musical edition to be laboriously transcribed, perhaps from a manuscript – for example Gluck’s Philemon and Baucis (we gave the UK première in 2016) was set from a manuscript in the Royal Academy of Music. A notable project was Marcos Portugal’s The Marriage of Figaro which had been unperformed anywhere since its Venice première in 1800. For this we collaborated with Dr David Cranmer, an English musicologist in Lisbon who, with his university students, was engaged on a long-term project to edit operas by this little-known composer. In 2023, our UK première of Salieri’s At the Venice Fair is possible through a collaboration with Dr Rüdiger Thomsen-Fürst of the Forschungszentrum Hof-Musik-Stadt, Schwetzingen, Germany, who has provided us with the recently edited score.

Once we have the music, then the long task of translation begins. Other than in the occasional concert we have always performed in English, which is certainly appreciated by our regular audiences. Making a ‘translation’ surprisingly doesn’t really require advanced language skills, but it does need understanding the meaning, and having a feel for musical meter; to understand about singing is possibly more important than an in-depth knowledge of the language. We start from a literal English translation of the original text (which may be in Italian, German or French) and turn it into a singing one, keeping an eye on the fit of the text and music, word stresses, vowels and whether what we have written is actually singable, and trying to include a good dose of humour if appropriate. A rhyming dictionary is much used. It all gets easier with practice!

With the translation completed, it is written into the master copy of the score, which is then copied for singers. Orchestral players receive their own ‘part’, once these have been marked up in pencil with bowing indications for the strings, and expression and other instructions, a task for the conductor and the leader (the principal violin). The director, assistant director and stage manager will have their own copies of the score, which are carefully marked up as rehearsals proceed, with ideas and instructions.

“Gray and French’s English libretto tempers irreverence with real affection, pitching this gossamer comedy just right for a contemporary audience, and giving their young cast plenty to work with.” (The Spectator)

“Gilly French’s often wry and deliberately glib rendering of the text” (Classical Source)

“Gilly French’s witty and ingenious English translation, perfectly audible in the open air” (The Spectator)

Audience comments on Fool Moon, 2022: “Probably the best yet in terms of fun and translation!” - “It was absolutely wonderful, especially the rhymes… your best yet” - “…absolutely brilliant. Never enjoyed an opera more… fabulous translation”

Essential reference books Philemon and Baucis (2016) Bampton edition produced from the above Philemon and Baucis, in performance Checking translations (Bride & Gloom, 2019) Bride & Gloom, in performance


In our second year, 1994, we selected an opera which, despite the fame of its composer, is remarkably little-known – L’oca del Cairo (The Cairo Goose). Mozart composed this in 1783 but became dissatisfied with the libretto, and so discarded the project – he wrote much, but not all, of the first act, and only sketched in the orchestral parts. We discovered the work through a CD and were struck by the quality and fun of the music and plot; for the recording a ‘completion’ had been produced by the musicologist Erik Smith, who we contacted in London and who became an enthusiastic ally of the project. This was our (Gilly and Jeremy) first attempt at writing an opera translation (from the Italian) and Jeremy’s first experience of directing a production.

Although in 1995 and 1996 we chose ‘standard’ repertory (Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, and Gluck’s Orpheus and Euridice), from 1997 we moved almost entirely into rare and little-known operas - always from the ‘classical’ period of the second half of the eighteenthcentury. We felt there was little point in duplicating popular works such as Carmen or La Traviata which can be heard everywhere. We decided to go beyond the accepted ‘canon’ of standard choices, encouraged to take risks and to educate our audiences in music they would not otherwise encounter. Rare repertoire quickly became our ‘USP’: although sometimes challenging in terms of access to the written scores, it is remarkably liberating to perform music which is almost unheard. It gave the company – renamed in 1998 from ‘Bampton Summer Opera’ to ‘Bampton Classical Opera’ – a distinctiveness which was soon recognised by the press, and which has led to many triumphs.

'Britain’s unchallenged champion of 18th-century opera.’ (Opera Now)

'There’s always a special sense of relaxed occasion at Bampton; each performance of just one carefully picked and often rare work, feels like the culmination of months of intense preparation and yet the whole company glows with the joy of sharing this latest operatic find with the world, creating an atmosphere at once calm, confident and utterly inclusive.' (Bachtrack)

'Bampton Classical Opera produces nothing but rare repertory – a huge credit to a company with a flair for production but run on a shoestring.' (Royal Opera House programme booklet)

Bampton’s 2019 production of Stephen Storace’s comedy Bride & Gloom (Gli sposi malcontenti) was selected as a finalist (amongst major European companies) for the Rediscovered Work category of the International Opera Awards in 2020

Logo, International Opera Awards Gavan Ring (Casimiro) Jenny Stafford (Eginia) and Aoife O’Sullivan (Enrichetta) Adam Tunnicliffe (Valente) and Caroline Kennedy (Bettina)


One successful strand Bampton speciality has been to select operas which have familiar titles but were composed by unfamiliar composers – thus Salieri’s Falstaff (not Verdi’s), Gazzaniga’s Don Giovanni (not Mozart’s), Paisiello’s The Barber of Seville (not Rossini’s), Marcos Portugal’s The Marriage of Figaro (not Mozart’s), Bertoni’s Orfeo (not Monteverdi’s), Paer’s Leonora (not Beethoven’s) and Isouard’s Cinderella (not Rossini’s or Massenet’s). This has created intriguing projects for us to work on and has appealed to audiences wanting something different. Several of our choices have been UK premières and some have lain completely unperformed since their original first performances. It is fascinating when our operas throw light on more familiar repertory – Mozart for example was a musical magpie and often ‘borrowed’ ideas from other works that he heard, such as Grétry’s L’amant jaloux (which we performed in 2016).

We’ve also concentrated on two better-known composers whose operatic output has been neglected: Gluck and Haydn. Only Gluck’s Orpheus and Euridice is a standard repertory work, but we have performed six other rarities, culminating in his magnificent Paris and Helen in 2021. Haydn’s operas were systematically explored by Garsington opera in the 1990s, and we have rediscovered six of these richly orchestrated and always surprising scores, leading to Il mondo della luna (‘Fool Moon’) in 2022. Other composers that we have delighted in have been Antonio Salieri (At the Venice Fair in 2023 will be our fourth by this much-misunderstood but very appealing composer) and the remarkable Anglo-Italian composer Stephen Storace (1762-1796), a good friend of Mozart’s in Vienna. Our performance of Storace’s Gli sposi malcontenti (Bride & Gloom) was selected as a finalist in the Rediscovered Work category of the International Opera Awards 2020 – we were the only UK company in our category.

Breathing new life into little-known late 18th- century works is one of our defining ambitions and provides us with constant stimulation and motivation.

'Ploughing a jovial furrow of forgotten 18th-century repertoire, unearthing some real gems… and performing them … for some of the best ticket-prices available in England' (Opera Now)

'Bampton Opera is pretty much guaranteed to produce a show you won’t have seen before... What’s unusual about Bampton is the friction it maintains between its growing ambition and its total lack of pretension…. The results are giddily exciting, propelled by wit, charm and bags of joy.' (The Spectator)

Philidor, Blaise le Savetier (performed 2012: Robert Anthony Gardiner) Bertoni, Orfeo (2014) Arne, The Judgment of Paris (2016: Barbara Cole Walton, Catherine Backhouse) Storace, Bride & Gloom (2019) Haydn, Fool Moon (2022) Photographs by Anthony Hall Grétry, L’amant jaloux (2012: Aoife O’Sullivan, Martene Grimson, Máire Flavin)

Unlike most companies, Bampton does not have a permanent music director. We enjoy the challenge of working with a variety of conductors, both young and established. Some conductors are with us only for a single production, but we have given repeat invitations to several.

An early appointment is also the répétiteur –this is the pianist who will play at most of the rehearsals, and perhaps substitutes for the conductor if absent. Répétiteurs coach the singers, for example on interpretation and diction, and make a significant contribution to musical quality and dramatic pacing. As we perform 18th century opera, there is usually the need for harpsichord accompaniment in the performances, especially in the recitatives – the sung dialogue passages which alternate with the orchestrally-accompanied arias and ensembles. Recitatives are accompanied only by harpsichord (and maybe also with cello). The music for them is often only a bass line of single notes, and a creative répétiteur needs to improvise harmonies and decorations around those, rather like a jazz musician.

Although we have occasionally appointed an external stage director, nearly all our productions have been in the hands of Jeremy Gray. The director makes all the main decisions about the concept and mood of the production and its overall appearance. Jeremy usually designs the sets for his own productions, although he has enjoyed a rewarding collaboration with Nigel Hook for productions which have gone to the Buxton Festival, where more elaborate and large-scale sets are required.

Other important creative roles are usually an assistant director, perhaps a choreographer (who may be styled a ‘movement director’) and a stage manager and assistants.


Conductor Thomas Blunt in rehearsal (2021) Conductor Anthony Kraus (2017) Répétiteur Hannah Quinn (2019) Choreographer Karen Halliday (2014) Karen Halliday working with Sam Evans and Harriet Cameron (2022) Stage manager Laura Alexander-Smith (2022) Répétiteur Kelvin Lim (2006) Choreographer Karen Halliday and Assistant Director Harvey Evans (2022) Répétiteur Charlotte Forrest with Anna Starushkevych broadcasting live in BBC Radio 3 studio (2016)

Rehearsals for Bampton are usually held over a five-week period, with refresher sessions before the Westonbirt and London performances. Rehearsals are in 3-hour sessions, two or sometimes three a day. The intensive schedule is in London, usually split between a rented studio space near Elephant and Castle, and a well-equipped studio theatre in Westminster, sometimes supplemented by the occasional church or church hall.

Singers will come to rehearsals having (usually!) learned the music – we need to get them ‘off score’ as quickly as possible so as to concentrate on vocal refinement, movement and acting. Singers are likely to have worked on their music with their vocal teachers and coaches and will continue to develop in sessions with the conductor and répétiteur.

Staging (drama) rehearsals are accompanied by the conductor and/or répétiteur, but are run by the director, with assistant director and choreographer refining movement and also dancing if required.

Earlier rehearsals concentrate on character and motivation, and on ‘blocking’ – the main arrangements and movements of bodies on stage. Studio chairs and tables suffice in rehearsal for scenery.

Props and costumes are gradually introduced, and the London period ends with several ‘runs’ in order to experience continuity. The production must be close to performance quality by the end of this period, before we move to Bampton for the final stages of the work with the set and orchestra.


Staging and dancing London rehearsals for Haydn’s Fool Moon, 2022


Bampton rehearsals for Haydn’s Fool Moon, 2022.


We’ve often thought that to stage Haydn’s wondrous The Creation would be easy on costumes, since the main characters are Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. In the slightly cooler climate of the Deanery Garden, rather more covering is required and we do like our performances to be family-friendly!

Year after year we ring the changes with costume and production style and, whilst our music is firmly rooted in the 18th century, we aim at variety of fashion from different periods to keep our performances fresh. With tight budgets, excessive elaboration is usually impossible, but colour, style and detail are important to our concepts. Our costumes must be flexible, comfortable and match (in the garden at least) a range of climates.

Colour co-ordination: Nina 1999 (costumes: Pauline Smith) Period foppery: The Two Barons of Rocca Azzurra 2002 (costumes: Pauline Smith) (Mark Saberton, Andrew Kennedy and Thomas Guthrie) Period elegance: L’infedeltà delusa, 2005 (costumes: Fiona Hodges) (Nicholas Sharratt, Cheryl Enever, Huw Rhys-Evans, Kim Sheehan, Nicholas Merryweather) Toga party: La capricciosa corretta, 2006 (costumes: Pauline Smith) (Tamsin Coombs, Amanda Pitt, Adrian Powter, John Lofthouse, Peter van Hulle)


Over the years we’ve bought, begged, borrowed, hired and made. The key figure in our wardrobe history has been Bampton resident and friend, Pauline Smith. Over the years she has been assisted by Jean Gray, Pat Smith and (currently) Anne Baldwin. Pauline first costumed us for Gazzaniga’s Don Giovanni in 1997 and took charge of almost every production until 2009, when she took (happily, temporary) ‘retirement’ from a task which is demanding and often frustrating. She has to deal with singers who provide inaccurate measurements, singers who don’t like wearing hats, singers whose pregnancy develops during the performance run, singers who drop their costumes on the floor, and directors who demand last-minute pockets for awkward-shaped props.

Pauline has wonderful instincts for colour and for the accessories which can ‘lift’ a costume and add to the humour of a comedy production. Pauline also manages our physical wardrobe, stored upstairs at the Village Hall.

The collection bursts at the seams, and she has had to fight a serious battle against moths (now fortunately decimated). Recently she and Anne have been engaged in yet another cull of costumes deemed inadequate or in poor condition, and the wardrobe is now physically in good shape and well organised. Another costume expert and close friend, Fiona Hodges, stepped in with L’infedeltà delusa in 2005 and went on to dress several shows for us, especially those requiring ‘period’ styles and corsets. We’ve also had excellent productions designed and managed by Vikki Medhurst and Jess Iliff, both professionals working mostly in film.

We were thrilled when Pauline (with Anne) came back to us for Fool Moon in 2022 and, now that they have come down to earth, they are with us again for At the Venice Fair in 2023.

Funereal Pre-Raphaelitism: Romeo and Juliet, 2007 (costumes: Pauline Smith) Oriental Mozart: Apollo and Hyacinth, 2008 (costumes: Fiona Hodges) (Amanda Pitt, Tom Raskin, Martene Grimson) Revolutionary fervour: Leonora, 2008 (costumes: Pauline Smith) (Adrian Powter, Emily Rowley-Jones, Samuel Evans) Italian seaside chic: Le pescatrici 2009 (costumes: Pauline Smith) (Caroline Kennedy, Rosa French) Moorish elegance: The Marriage of Figaro, 2010 (costumes: Fiona Hodges) (Emily Rowley-Jones, Lisa Wilson) Neo-classically dapper: The School of Jealousy 2017 (costumes: Vikki Medhurst) (Thomas Herford, Alessandro Fisher, Nathalie Chalkley, Matthew Sprange) Domestic unrest: Cinderella, 2018 (costumes: Jess Iliff) (Kate Howden, Jenny Stafford, Aoife O’Sullivan) Pauline and Anne preparing for a London rehearsal Falstaffian pomposity: Falstaff, 2003 (costumes: Rose Martinez) (Mark Saberton as Falstaff)

Creating scenery is one of the most labour-intensive (and often expensive) aspects of a production and Bampton sets have varied enormously in complexity and effect. One of the vital design issues to be considered is whether it will stand up in strong winds and is waterproof; another is how to make a set suited to the very different appearances and environments of Bampton, Westonbirt and St John’s Smith Square.

Many of our sets have been Bampton-built and for many years from 2004 to 2018, our local master builders were Mike Wareham and Anthony Hall, the latter assisted by Trevor Darke. As the ‘Bampton Scenic Workshops’ they built everything from Mount Vesuvius to the inside of a low-cost aeroplane, constructions taking place both in Bampton back gardens and Andrew Hichens’ farm barn at Radcot. Painting has mostly been undertaken by Felicity Cormack, and occasionally Jeremy Gray. Materials have been recycled from window displays at John Lewis and Laura Ashley, from a Tate Gallery exhibition and from a discarded set donated by British Youth Opera.

For three of our four appearances at the Buxton Festival, much larger and complex sets were required, which were designed by Nigel Hook and built professionally. Since 2021, sets have been built by DSH Carpentry in Great Tew.

Props are vital to drama and comedy, and here the internet and Ebay are much searched. Chairs, crockery, glasses, trays are stored by us in abundance. Notable props have included a Punch and Judy Show, statues, fireworks, a Dalek, an Alphorn, a French guillotine (which alarmed passers-by in Bridge Street when Mike was building it), period telephones, books and magazines, helium balloons, bubble guns and many plastic fish. The 2022 production of Fool Moon required a signpost for the moon, and a massive magnet, both made by our latest prop-maker, Andy Collier.


Designs and construction for The Marriage of Figaro, originally at Bampton and then rebuilt for Buxton The pierced screens were donated by Tate Gallery. A massive painted backdrop was a necessary addition at Buxton Leonora (2008), Act 1, and Act 2 (note the guillotine) Mike and Anthony loading the scenery van for Romeo and Juliet, 2008 ‘Exterminate!’ The Dalek in The Philosopher’s Stone, 2001, built and operated by Chris Potter


Casting an opera is a slow and sometimes frustrating task. A large opera company will employ a casting director, but with smaller companies, this falls to the artistic directors, conductor and répétiteur. At Bampton we select singers who have superb vocal technique with good English diction, whose voices will blend and who have responsive acting skills. Before the pandemic we held live auditions in the autumn, but increasingly now it is possible to ‘audition’ remotely and singers will usually be able to offer recordings online. We keep an eye and ear on performances at the London music conservatoires and at other concerts and operas, and singers themselves or their agents will contact us. Our biennial Young Singers’ Competition has also proved a valuable source of casting potential.

A primary aim is to identify and nurture outstanding young singers early in their careers – what are now often called ‘emerging’ artists. An ideal Bampton cast will include a contingent of ‘young’ voices, aged up to say 32, but also older and more experienced singers, often those who have worked with us in the past. When casting we must consider suitability to the role, both musically and dramatically. Singers have different qualities of ‘Fach’ – a German term which identifies vocal character, range and agility. Often, for example, sopranos and tenors in baroque and classical opera need a wide range and the ability to sing high and very fast, without strain, which is referred to as ‘coloratura’.

Many young singers (as well as conductors and assistant directors) who pass through Bampton go on to develop impressive national and international careers. It gives us great satisfaction when we see Bampton singers of the calibre of tenor Benjamin Hulett later performing at Glyndebourne or soprano Rebecca Bottone at the Royal Opera House, and there are many others who have built on their experience with us to move into successful high-level careers. Press critics frequently acknowledge the very strong standard of our casting.

‘One quickly realizes that this is a serious business with remarkable artistic standards… It has huge charm, eyes and ears for spotting young talent, no pretensions and a hunger for digging out operatic rarities.’ (Opera)

‘Bampton has a history of talent spotting…Beneath the comic fun there was real artistry.’ (Opera Now)

‘A knack of advancing prodigious young talent.’ (Opera)

‘Bampton has punched far above its weight in giving a first break to singers and conductors who now have world reputation.' (Opera Now)

Tenor Benjamin Hulett sang his very first operas with Bampton. As the god Astromonte in The Philosopher’s Stone (2001) he was required to sing a demanding coloratura role wearing a space suit - although we did permit him to remove the helmet in order to sing! Ben is recognised as one of the UK’s leading tenors and is much in demand at the leading international opera houses and stages Rebecca Bottone was already a well-established young soprano, noted for her vocal agility and purity of tone, when she sang for us (2004-5) as Maturina in Gazzaniga’s Don Giovanni and Rosina in Paisiello’s Barber of Seville Her successful career has taken her to English National Opera, the Royal Opera, and major companies across the world. Later her father, tenor Bonaventura Bottone, became a Patron of BCO and chairs the adjudication panel for our Young Singers’ Competition Baritone Nicholas Merryweather and soprano Aoife O’Sullivan have both set the record for the number of their Bampton roles (Nick first sang for us at the age of 19) and have been amongst our most popular performers for their vocal quality and priceless comedy. The photographs show them in La finta semplice (2013) and Trofonio’s Cave (2015) Tenor Andrew Kennedy sang for us in The Two Barons of Rocca Azzura (2002) and went on to be a winner in the Kathleen Ferrier Awards, with an outstanding international career Nicholas Merryweather as Alidoro in Cinderella (2018) Young soprano Ella Taylor sang their first major operatic role as Paris in Gluck’s Paris and Helen at Bampton in 2022. In summer 2023 Ella is already singing small roles at English National Opera and the Royal Opera House

Working with an orchestra is an essential aspect of putting on an opera. For our Bampton and Westonbirt performances our indefatigable ‘fixer’ Felicity Cormack convenes a group of freelance professionals under the title of the Orchestra of Bampton Classical Opera –although not a permanent grouping, several players have worked with us over many years. Most of our repertory requires a ‘classical’ orchestra, in other words one of relatively small forces - strings, oboes and horns, along with whatever wind and brass instruments the composer signifies. Bassoons and timpani often reinforce the bass line, and very occasionally a harp is called for. This constitutes a group of between 16 and 22 players.

A key figure is the leader (the principal 1st violin) who helps the conductor in marking up the music with bowings and provides stylistic leadership. Classicalperiod opera also requires a harpsichordist, usually played by the répétiteur, that is, the all-important pianist who has worked with the singers throughout the rehearsal period. In the early years we hired real harpsichords, but these are delicate in open-air conditions and require frequent tuning; in 2006 a grant from the Clothworkers’ Foundation enabled us to buy a good-quality and more robust electronic equivalent, which is still going strong.

The orchestra meets and rehearses several times during the week preceding the Bampton performances, beginning with a session in London. In Bampton, orchestra and singers work together in a purely music rehearsal, without acting, which is held in the church: this is known as the Sitzprobe (literally, a ‘sitting rehearsal’).

Our annual September performance at St John’s Smith Square is given with a different orchestra, which necessitates extra rehearsals. From 2004 to 2010 we worked with the well-known London Mozart Players; since 2012 we have collaborated with CHROMA, another outstanding and well-established professional London group.


A colourful orchestral rehearsal, with Paul Hoskins conducting –Bampton, 2005 A ‘sitzprobe’ – a ‘sitting rehearsal’: Robin Newton conducting, with John-Colyn Gyeantey, 2010 Felicity Cormack in rehearsal (2010). Felicity is our ‘fixer’ for Bampton orchestras – she finds players and co-ordinates arrangements In this rehearsal for The Italian Girl in London (July 2011) at the Buxton Opera House, the orchestra is in a traditional theatre ‘pit’ ‘Stage and orchestra’ rehearsal at Bampton, 2013 – Andrew Griffiths conducting. Note the hot weather cold drinks fridge! London rehearsal with Paul Wingfield working on Trofonio’s Cave (July 2015) Anthony Kraus conducts CHROMA Ensemble (rehearsal, The School of Jealousy, 2017) at St John’s Smith Square, London Lizzi Tocknell (horn) and Rita Schindler (harp) rehearsing the elaborate solo parts in Isouard’s Cinderella Bampton 2018 Not quite an orchestra – the Oxfordshire folk trio ‘Three Pressed Men’ appeared as an on-stage band in our 2003 UK première performance of Salieri’s Falstaff A marked-up violin part Non-costume ‘stage and orchestra’ rehearsal at BuxtonThe Italian Girl in London London rehearsal (July 2015)

Food and drink make frequent appearances on stage in operas – we’ve used plaster-of-Paris Dundee cake and wedding cake; plastic Seville oranges, bounceable cup-cakes, plastic ice-creams, and disappointingly fake gin and tonic. Onstage ‘red wine’ (actually, grape juice) can be a liability and cause upsetting stains on costumes. Occasionally food must be edible – especially sandwiches, carefully prepared at the last moment and kept out of the sun.

Cake, and catering more generally, are a constant at Bampton: from the very beginning Gilly resolved that musicians would rehearse and perform better if well fed. We have the happiest memories of cast and orchestra catering, generally hosted in our small garden at Holcot House, with meals provided regularly during the last few hectic days of Bampton rehearsals. Mass catering, often for around 40 musicians, is a vital part of our behind-the-scenes activity. Aspects of meals are sometimes ‘contracted out’ to our local friends – Anne Hichens produces massive fruit salads and rich chocolate fridge-cake, for example, which are eagerly anticipated by the musicians. Wherever possible cast birthdays during rehearsals are celebrated (when the cake isn’t made from plaster-of-Paris!), and strawberries and cream accompany the Wimbledon finals which tend to distract inconveniently from vital final rehearsals. London rehearsals always need coffee and biscuits, and during the Bampton rehearsals Margaret Josephs regularly provides the necessary refreshment. At Westonbirt, the school sixth-form domestic science kitchen has functioned as a capacious canteen and happy common room for our weekends there, as we endeavour to provide our usual fattening-up service away from home.

At the performances we offer a delightful picnic service for the audience, if booked a few days in advance, and there is always our excellent and very reasonable bar, sometimes with wine themed to the specific opera. There are lively post-performance parties for musicians and Friends, generously hosted by one of the nearby houses, and the Bampton pubs always do well during rehearsal week. We usually hold summer parties for the Friends, and a ‘thank-you’ party for our wonderful volunteer helpers.


Rehearsal tea at the Deanery, 2022, run by Margaret Josephs Ready for the oven - cast catering at home Always popular Cast catering Birthday cake for singer Caroline Kennedy Catering at Westonbirt Cast lunchtime at the pub, Clanfield Post-performance pub, Bampton The Prince and Cinderella with their (plaster of Paris) wedding cake Catering at Westonbirt About 2 a.m. after a Bampton performance Audience picnic

Bampton has its own patron saint, Beornwald, whose feast-day was celebrated in the Middle Ages on 21 December. Prof. John Blair, the historian expert on Anglo-Saxon Bampton, once wrote that “if still largely mysterious, St Beornwald of Bampton deserves rescuing from oblivion.” In 1995 we decided to do exactly that by marking his neglected feast-day with a concert in St Mary’s; these have followed every year since, although occasionally with slight date variation (and except in the pandemic year when the concert was translated to St Mary’s, Witney). Beornwald (the name means ‘mighty bear’) lived probably sometime between the 7th and 9th centuries and may have ruled the important minster church in the village. The elegant 14th century remains of his likely shrine are in the north transept chapel of St Mary’s, and well worth a visit (if you go to look, do crane your neck upwards to the roof, where there is a wonderful grimacing grotesque!).

The St Beornwald concerts have covered a wide range of music, sometimes popular, such as Messiah or Vivaldi’s Seasons, but often with less well-known themes and music. Twice we’ve put on the moving Christmas opera, Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors, which works very effectively in the church. In recent years, the concerts have especially featured a select professional consort of singers, the Bampton Classical Voices, directed by Andrew Griffiths. Always the wonderful acoustic of the church enhances the music, and Jacky Allinson and her friends add to the pleasure of the evening with mulled wine of particular potency!


The medieval shrine of St Beornwald in St Mary’s Concert Posters Christmas opera in the church: Amahl and the Night Visitors Lighting by Ian Chandler. Gilly French conducts Messiah, 2019 Socially-distanced St B’s concert 2020 at St Mary’s Witney (rehearsal) – note audience seating in separated pairs Andrew Griffiths conducting Bampton Classical Voices, 2022

In 2013, to commemorate our 20th anniversary, we inaugurated a nationally-based Young Singers’ Competition. It identifies and nurtures outstanding musicians aged 21-32, usually those graduating from the country’s music conservatoires or those early in their careers –what are often known as ‘emerging artists’. The competition is held every two years in the autumn, and currently attracts around 70 entries. Competitors initially submit recordings for assessment by the panel of adjudicators, 20-25 of which progress to semi-finals which take place live (but at this stage not publicly) in London. Six singers progress to the Public Final held in Oxford, each presenting a 20-minute recital at what is always a delightful and exciting event. We award First and Second Prizes (currently £2000 and £1000) and, since 2015, an additional accompanists' prize.

The standard is always exceptionally high and attracts some of the very finest musicians of their generation nationwide. Winning a competition such as ours can make a big difference to the reputation and career of a young performer.

First prize winners have been: mezzo-soprano Anna Starushkevych (2013), soprano Galina Averina (2015), mezzo Emma Stannard (2017), soprano Lucy Anderson (2019) and soprano Cassandra Wright (2021). Piano accompanist winners have been Keval Shah (2017), Dylan Perez (2019), Ilan Kurtser (2021), all of whom are emerging as some of the finest young accompanists in the UK.


Flyers for the Young Singers’ Competition Ukrainian mezzo-soprano Anna Starushkevych, First Prizewinner, 2013, as the muse Erato in Il parnaso confuso, 2014 Emma as the poet Fileno in Clori, Tirsi e Fileno, 2022 Soprano Lucy Anderson and pianist Dylan Perez, First Prizewinners 2019 Anna as Ofelia in Trofonio’s Cave, 2015 (photo AH) Mezzo-soprano Emma Stannard and pianist Keval Shah, First Prizewinners 2017 Ilan Kurtser and soprano Cassandra Wright, First Prizewinners 2021, with Lucy Anderson (centre) in Bampton YSC Prizewinners’ recital in Marylebone. Lucy as Helen, Paris and Helen
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