Award-winning director Elijah Moshinsky brings rare Verdi opera to Buxton International Festival

Elijah Moshinsky. Photo: Jeff Busby.
Elijah Moshinsky. Photo: Jeff Busby.

A revival of your work in New York and collaborating with Placido Domingo at Covent Garden are career pinnacles in any opera director’s career – but for Elijah Moshinsky, Buxton is now the really exciting place to be.

The award-winning Verdi specialist, who has won acclaim around the world for his productions of the composer’s greatest works, is about to tackle his least well-known – Alzira – for this year’s Buxton International Festival.

Australian soprano Kate Ladner appears at the festival.

Australian soprano Kate Ladner appears at the festival.

It will be its first major UK staged production, and the last in the festival’s trilogy of early Verdi operas, which started with Giovanna d’Arco (Joan of Arc) in 2016 and continued with Macbeth last year.

“If audiences liked Giovanna and Macbeth, they’ll like this,” says Elijah.

And like it they certainly did: the critics said Macbeth had them “on the edge of our seats, spines tingling, right to the end.”

Alzira is based on a play set in 16th Century Peru by Voltaire, but the opera skips over the French iconoclast’s high-brow discussion of the contrasts between the Catholic Spanish conquerors and their Native American subjects.

“The play is very brainy,” says Elijah, but the opera is visceral rather than intellectual.

“Alzira is a Mafia drama, very Neapolitan, with people who have temperaments which switch from good to bad instantly.”

Buxton is not the only place it is being performed, but probably the only place it could be: “Someone on the (festival) board came up with the money to do Alzira because he’d heard it in concert and thought it was wonderful.

“Something special is going on here: this is the only place in the world that Alzira will be presented, so Buxton is at the centre of things,” says Elijah, who has seen his work featured in a revival at the New York Metropolitan Opera House and has worked with the biggest names in opera in Covent Garden and the Royal Opera House.

“Buxton is no less than these (opera) houses by any means,” he continues.

“To me it’s much more interesting to do something original in Buxton.”

And “the fantastically eccentric” Buxton Opera House is the perfect setting for Verdi: “It approximates much more the theatrical conditions under which these operas were first presented. They were performed in small, intimate opera houses all over Italy.”

Alzira will be brought up-to-date in a quite literally revolutionary way: “We have stolen everything from Che Guevara to El Salvador to set it in a modern South American revolution. That gives it the conflict and political structure required.”

Alzira’s rarity is enough of a draw in itself for dedicated Verdi fans, but they also will discover echoes of his later favourites in the music: “You’ll find Aida in it, you can find Traviata in it and you can find Simone Boccanegra in it,” adds Elijah.

Alzira can be seen at Buxton Opera House on July 7, 10, 13, 16, 18 and 20. For tickets, visit www.buxtonfestival.co.uk.