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If the title Raymond and Agnes makes you snigger, it’s probably not for you; if it elicits a gentle chuckle for more innocent past times, then definitely try it. Retrospect Opera specialises in reviving obscure British operas and dramatic works, and this is a fascinating exhumation. Born in Bath, Loder is now forgotten, but this 1855 opera demonstrates the influence of his years of study in Germany and his knowledge of Italian opera too. Drawing on elements of Matthew Lewis’s Gothic novel The Monk, with dollops of Weber’s opera Der Freischütz, the plot is not the most believable, featuring love rivalry, sleepwalking, spectral nuns, striking clocks, pistol shots and abduction. Loder obviously worked to push English opera forward, using a more developed and sophisticated structure than hitherto seen. So the arias are relatively straightforward in their charm and grace, but it’s in the ensembles and finales that he really becomes interesting – for example, the Act II quintet, where the voices weave across each other and take turns at the fore, showing that Loder knew his Lucia di Lammermoor sextet. Who better to conduct such a gem than Richard Bonynge, who has the advantage of taking things seriously and never sounding abashed or apologetic. The singing is good: Majella Cullagh’s soprano is not to my taste, but she is technically polished. Mark Milhofer’s tenor has a sweet lilt, and Andrew Greenan relishes baddie duties. The one let-down is the dialogue, which sounds rather tame in delivery; I suppose it is difficult not to spill over into pantomime.

Francis Muzzu Read the full review on Agora Classica

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