Bennet: The Mines of Sulphur

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Bennet
LABELS: Chandos
ALBUM TITLE: The Mines of Sulphur
WORKS: The Mines of Sulphur
PERFORMER: Kristopher Irmiter, Beth Clayton, Brandon Jovanovich, James Maddalena, Caroline Worra; Glimmerglass Opera Orchestra/Stewart Robertson
CATALOGUE NO: CHSA 5036
Though The Mines of Sulphur enjoyed deserved success at its 1965 Sadler’s Wells premiere and in subsequent productions as far afield as La Scala, its more recent neglect has left many opera-lovers curious: is it one of those few operas of the last half-century that really could have a place in the repertory? Glimmerglass Opera in upstate New York answered that question last year with a decisive ‘yes’, and although the production transfers this autumn to New York City Opera, most people will have to rely on this very welcome premiere recording to make their own judgement. The work comes across strongly on disc: Richard Rodney Bennett’s style may be rooted in the serialism of the 1960s, but his sounds make for gripping music theatre and are far more interesting than the latter-day Puccini churned out by so many of his successors.

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Set in the West Country during the 18th century, the opera boasts a fierce plot. It helps that Stewart Robertson’s conducting is so vivid and securely paced, but the cast is also excellent. Brandon Jovanovich uses his virile tenor to strong effect as the anti-hero Bocconnion, and the mezzo Beth Clayton is alluring as the gypsy Rosalind. James Maddalena makes a hard-nosed Tovey, and Caroline Worra brings pathos to Jenny, whose disclosure that she has the plague makes for a shattering close. There is little stage noise to distract from these live performances. John Allison