Buxton International Festival: Pulling out the stops for 40th anniversary

Adrian Kelly, artistic director of the Buxton International Festival.
Adrian Kelly, artistic director of the Buxton International Festival.

Buxton International Festival’s new artistic director Adrian Kelly knows a thing or two about spectacular opera venues having arrived fresh from a ten-year stint as music director of the Salzburg State Theatre.

He says: “We have a very beautiful baroque theatre in Salzburg which is not dissimilar in size to the Buxton Opera House but I think just for sheer elegance, Buxton tops it; it is a wonderful space for music theatre because there are so many good seats - it is a 900 seater - but everything is intimate and the acoustics are very good.”

Kelly studied in Manchester at the Royal Northern College of Music and felt it was the right time to come home to the UK: “To be the artistic director of such a renowned festival - it was a perfect opportunity.”

Nonetheless he acknowledges that there will be constraints. He explains: “The smallness of the pit means there are certain very big operas you can’t play but one of the festival’s central missions is to put on operas that aren’t performed that often.

“A lot of those were composed before orchestras started to get enormous in the later part of the 19th century so there is a huge amount of music still to be discovered and rediscovered.”

Opera buffs will be particularly excited by the festival’s production of Antonio Caldara’s Lucio Papirio Dittatore with the baroque ensemble La Serenissima.

“It is a thriller about Ancient Rome and political, Machiavellian manoeuvres,” says Kelly.

“It hasn’t been played since 1719 in Vienna. There is something of an archaeological element with these pieces… the thrill of hearing music that’s been sitting in a library in the middle of Europe somewhere.”

Kelly relishes the challenge of finding unfairly neglected pieces and making exciting performances out of them but he is also happy to “branch out” with more familiar works, Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin being a key production this year.

READ MORE: Buxton's Mark Cocker asks... can literature change attitudes towards the environment?
He says: “It is a wonderful opera for anyone who has not necessarily seen much opera before because it has everything - it’s got music that’s full of energy and there’s dancing and it’s also got extraordinary, heart-wrenching scenes.

“It deals with things that are very current like missing opportunities in life, regrets and constraints and unrequited love.”

Offering both innovation and accessibility, the festival’s production of Georgiana is an intriguing tribute to Chatsworth’s 5th Duchess of Devonshire.

“It is a very ingenious piece that has been put together with music that has been written during Georgiana’s lifetime,” Kelly explains.

“Some of these composers are well known like Mozart and some are less well known. It’s what’s called a mash up!”

With themes including her scandalous love life but also her catastrophic gambling habit, Kelly sees it as halfway between a play and an opera.

There is also a spectacular opening concert, New Voices, featuring rising stars from Cape Town Opera conducted by Kelly.

Favourite arias from Mozart, Rossini, Beethoven, Bizet and Strauss are promised for this glitzy occasion. Meanwhile Opera della Luna, which scored a hit with the hilarious The Daughter of the Regiment last year, returns with Orpheus in the Underworld.

Kelly adds: “We have a world-class concert series as well. A lot of people come to Buxton for the operas and perhaps they don’t realise that our music series is on a par with the BBC Proms.”

With the packed festival programme including classical, jazz and folk - not to mention an extensive books series - he stressed: “I just urge people to have a look, pick up a brochure and see what’s going on.

“We’ve got a 40th anniversary and we’ve pulled out all the stops.”