New opera Georgiana is the pride of Buxton International Festival

Samantha Clarke (Georgiana), Benjamin Hulett (Duke of Devonshire), Susanna Fairbairn (Bess). Photo by Genevieve Girling.
Samantha Clarke (Georgiana), Benjamin Hulett (Duke of Devonshire), Susanna Fairbairn (Bess). Photo by Genevieve Girling.

The opera Georgiana was created for this year’s Buxton International Festival and it will be remembered as the highlight of the 40th festival, writes Mavis Kirkham.

It is a pasticcio (an Italian word meaning something between a pastiche and a deliciously stuffed pastry), based on the scandalous lives of Georgina Duchess of Devonshire, the fifth Duke of Devonshire and Lady Bess Foster.

All the music is by 18th century composers including Mozart and a short piece by Georgiana herself, skilfully fitted together by Mark Tatlow, the compiler and conductor of the opera. Musically it is a successful patchwork quilt: beautiful as a whole, with occasional pieces we find we know and love.

The text by Janet Plater is modern. The lyrics by Michael Williams fit the music beautifully.

Georgiana contains tragedy and comedy woven together in a similar way to Mozart’s Don Giovanni.

The story concerns the outrageous life style of this menage a trois, with both women pregnant by the Duke at the same time and producing his heirs, while loving each other. Georgiana then goes on to have an affair with Earl Grey, of tea fame and later Prime Minister. They have a daughter who is taken away from her and this breaks her heart. She dies in Bess’s arms and Bess goes on to marry the Duke and live a relatively conventional life as Duchess. On top of this there are Georgiana’s massive gambling debts, blackmail, and the slanderous gossip of high society.

The three, demanding principal roles are beautifully sung by Samantha Clarke (soprano) as Georgiana, Benjamin Hulett (tenor) as the Duke and Susanna

Fairburn (soprano) as Bess.

This is a very funny opera with set pieces such as the announcement of both pregnancies. The chorus of the nurses and wet-nurses of the two babies is very

comic, all the nurses being men with plastic breasts. There are some musical jokes and some political ones where the audience appreciated parallels in

modern politics.

The comic duo of Sheridan (who wrote School for Scandal), sung by Geoffrey Dolton, and Fox (the politician), sung by Aled Halland, is brilliant. Both have excellent tenor voices, act well and are full of comic gossip.

This is a very special opera with beautiful music that has stood the test of centuries, a scandalous local story (jokes about Chatsworth rhubarb as well as

high society), a lot of laughs and it is in English.

Georgiana is a great Derbyshire event. The standing ovation proved it.

You can catch Georgiana at Buxton Opera House on July 12, 15 and 20.