The Dragon of Wantley
Mary Bevan, Catherine Carby, Mark Wilde, John Savournin; The Brook Street Band/John Andrews
Resonus RES10304 107:56 mins (2 discs)
Even crotchety King George II loved The Dragon of Wantley, a bold 1730s spoof of Italian opera. Librettist Henry Carey originally conceived The Dragon, its action based loosely on a Yorkshire folk ballad, as a mock-Handelian oratorio for the celebrated Kitty Clive. Thwarted by Drury Lane’s manager, Carey and composer John F Lampe mounted their work independently, with opera now the genre of elite taste to be deflated. Carey shoehorned standard tropes satirical of dramma per musica – an absurd hero, two jealous prima donnas, an illogical happy ending – into his story of a drunken knight who, as the champion of rival lovers, kills a rampaging dragon by kicking its bottom. Carey’s satire inspired Lampe to heights of bravura writing and succulent scoring that he never scaled again.
In this premiere recording, conductor John Andrews shrewdly reserves buffoonery for Carey and Lampe’s antic scenes, heightening the galant elements of duets and ensembles, and giving performers space for arresting explorations of Lampe’s lyricism. In the showpiece ‘Gentle Knight’, soprano Mary Bevan gently wraps stunning ascending embellishments around the oboe’s melody. In the big lament aria, cellist Tatty Theo enriches the subtle articulation and rich timbres of mezzo-soprano Catherine Carby with her own. By contrast, tenor Mark Wilde as the knight and bass-baritone John Savournin as a squire and the dragon have great fun with the work’s excesses, Wilde prefacing his runs with vulgar gulps and Savournin growling absurdly.