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LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Pyramus and Thisbe; Flute Concerto in G (Cuckoo)
PERFORMER: Mark Padmore, Susan Bisatt, Rachel Brown (flute)Opera Restor’d/Peter Holman
Although accorded a substantial article in the New Grove Dictionary of Opera, the German-born composer John Frederick Lampe (1702/3-51) remains largely unknown except to connoisseurs of 18th-century English music. Yet on the evidence of this disc, such neglect is hardly deserved, since Lampe possesses a rare gift for writing genuinely comic opera.


The basis for his Pyramus and Thisbe of 1745 (subtitled ‘a mock opera’) is the famous play-within-a-play sequence from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But whereas Shakespeare attempts to caricature contemporary playwrights and actors, the objects of Lampe’s ridicule are the conventions of Italian opera, not to mention the insufferable vanity of Italian opera singers.

One might expect present-day audiences’ lack of familiarity with the lingua franca of Italian Baroque opera would lessen the immediacy of Lampe’s parody. Yet such is his impeccable sense of timing and rapier-like wit that any lingering doubts are banished from the very outset. Indeed, I can guarantee constant amusement, especially from the Whispering Duet, the graphic imitations of groans and moans in Wall’s Air, or the preposterous lion’s roar in ‘Ladies, don’t fright you’.


It is largely thanks to Peter Holman’s stylistically apposite reconstruction of Lampe’s long-lost recitatives that a modern performance of Pyramus and Thisbe was possible, and I am happy to report that Holman’s excellent group, Opera Restor’d, turn in a brilliant yet spontaneous interpretation that succeeds in bringing the music very much to life. Erik Levi