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Buxton Festival 2006: High Peak and High Culture. (BK)


Buxton Opera House

Picture courtesy of Jim Redfern and nvmdigital.com


Where can you find a working Opera House, an hour's journey from Manchester, Sheffield and two major motorways? If you're stumped, the answer is the spa town of Buxton in the High Peak district of Derbyshire. And as opera houses go, this one's hardly a newcomer: it was built in 1903.


Designed by Frank Matcham, one of Britain's finest theatre architects at the time, Buxton Opera House ran as a successful theatre until 1927. Then it became a cinema where silent films were shown until 'talkies' took over in 1932. Later, when Lillian Bayliss, a woman of immense energy and vision, and manager of London's Old Vic, presented summer Festivals in Buxton in 1937 and 1939, the demand for live theatre re-awakened and continued during wartime, though sadly only for a further decade.


After intermittent use as a cinema once again, the Opera House fell into disuse until it was lovingly restored in 1979 following hard and dedicated work by local people. A further £1.9 million restoration in the late 1990's followed on to put the house at the centre of a remarkable success story: as the centrepiece for Buxton's summer music and arts festival.


Aidan Lang


Buxton Festival (see website) has developed quickly into one of Britain's largest opera-based festivals. During the five year tenure of Artistic Director Aidan Lang, audiences have trebled to 35,000 in 2005 and the festival has grown into an internationally recognised event. At its core is a varied and innovative programme of operatic rarities, which included Donizetti's Maria Padilla in 2003 and Piazzolla's Maria de Buenos Aires in 2005. This year the festival runs from July 7th until July 23rd and presents no less than eight operatic works, ranging from Monteverdi (The Coronation of Poppea) by way of Gluck (Armide), Bizet (The Fair Maid of Perth), Britten (Noye's Fludde - already sold out) through to Shostakovitch (The Nose) and a recent work by Reading based composer Laurence Roman (Isabella and the Pot of Basil.) There  are also two opera workshops by Aidan Lang and the festival company. No mean feat for a town of  25,000 inhabitants.

Alongside the opera programme, there are equally varied music and literature events.  Some highlights from the music programme  include recitals by James Rutherford, Emma Kirkby  and Fretwork, Christopher Maltman, The Dufay Collective and A Knife at the Opera a 'murder mystery' by Buddug Verona James who sings arias and 'interrogates' six divas suspected of killing critics. Now that could be something to see.


There's a varied Fringe programme of small-scale drama, film and comedy alongside the main Festival (See Fringe web site) and an extensive Education and Community programme. And if all that isn't enough for you, immediately after the festival ends there's an independent Gilbert & Sullivan Festival (when some people will attempt to sing all 13 operas in 29 hours for reasons best  known to themselves) between July 29th and August 20th.

Robert Farr will be reporting on Armide from the main festival for Seen and Heard. Watch this space.


Bill Kenny





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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)