Small picture of Donizetti




Lortzing  The Poacher (Der Wildschütz)

Buxton Festival, July 9-27, 2008.

(Thanks to the Buxton Festival for providing the pictures below)

The Buxton Festival, under its new Artistic Director, Andrew Greenwood, increased its own productions to three in 2008:- Lortzing The Poacher, Handel Samson and a triple bill of Holst's Savitri and The Wandering Scholar and Vaughan Williams's Riders to the Sea.

The team for The Poacher was:-

Baculus - James Rutherford

Gretchen - Laura Parfitt

Count Eberbach - Ashley Holland

Countess - Imelda Drumm

Baron Kronthal - Benjamin Hulett

Baroness Freimann - Judith Howarth

Pancratius - Jonathan Best

Nanette - Hannah Pedley


Conductor - Andrew Greenwood

Director - Patrick Mason

Designer - Joe Vanek

Lighting - John Bishop

The Buxton Festival gave British audiences a rare chance to sample an opera by Albert Lortzing (1801-51), whose popularity in Germany has never found an equivalent response elsewhere.  His comedy The Poacher (Der Wildschütz) was contemporary with Donizetti's Don Pasquale, yet seems a world apart from it.  Superficially both deal with the marriage of a much older man to a young woman but, whereas in Donizetti the man gets his comeuppance, in Lortzing it all comes right in the end despite a scare that the lecherous count, shades of Figaro, will get his hands on the bride. Although in Donizetti's case it did not come to pass, both intended the action of their operas to be seen as roughly contemporary.  

In place of Donizetti's and Ruffini's spare but neat plot, Lortzing, who wrote his own libretto (in this case translated by Patrick Mason), concocted a rather sprawling story bordering on farce at times that required that two couples, the Count and the Baroness Freimann and The Countess and the Baron Kronthal, should each be brother and sister separated at 10 years old and who, in consequence, did not recognise each other.  The Poacher, or rather would be poacher, is Baculus, the schoolmaster, discovered shooting a deer in order to provide meat for the feast to celebrate his forthcoming wedding to Gretchen. In the end it turns out that he has shot his own donkey which enables him to escape charges, retain his job and marry Gretchen.  The Poacher was tuneful but hardly in the same class of melody as Don Pasquale and lacked its underlying humanity. On the other hand, it was, musically, a bit more adventurous with an unaccompanied hunting chorus, in particular, adding to the variety. Perhaps the most interesting aspect, which may well be down to hindsight, was the feeling throughout of the portrayal of a ruling class that had outstayed its time and usefulness, something that became all too clear a few years later in the revolutions of 1848.

Raymond Walker  on MusicWeb was particularly positive that "It was good to see the Buxton audience treated to a polished performance of a Lortzing work generally neglected by international repertoire". Other critics generally welcomed the production even if there was occasionally a slight edge that it was a novelty that they were glad to have been given the chance of seeing rather than something they would search out again. Albert Hickling in The Guardian noted that "If the score barely approaches Mozartian levels of inspiration, it nonetheless conveys a similar spirit of bonhomie. There is an outstanding comic turn by James Rutherford as Baculus, and Judith Howarth's Countess has a supremely cultured tone. Ashley Holland and Benjamin Hulett spar impressively in the central billiard scene".  

Richard Morrison in The Times also singled out the principals:-  " James Rutherford holds the show together as the bumbling schoolmaster.... As Gretchen, the young nymph to whom he's engaged (but quite willing to flog to a passing Baron), Laura Parfitt projects chirpy vivacity.  Ashley Holland, Benjamin Hulett, Judith Howarth and Imelda Drumm make a suitably eccentric bunch of aristocrats - all could have strayed from the pages of Wodehouse or Waugh. Everyone's words are crystal-clear. And in the pit Andrew Greenwood keeps this rustic score humming along merrily".   He also notes that "Patrick Mason stages all this, in his own lively English adaptation, with unpretentious cheerfulness inside Joe Vanek's simple village-green set".   Hugh Canning in The Sunday Times was more sceptical of Buxton's choice but also praised the direction and design, as well as the principals:- "For collectors of justly neglected masterpieces, this mildly amusing tosh was worth encountering — once — especially in Mason’s elegant, stylish and gently ironic staging, with a beautiful, green-hued indoors/outdoors set and period costumes by Joe Vanek".

The Buxton Festival are planning to perform Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia in 2009.


The schoolmaster Baculus teaching the alphabet



Baculus's intended bride, Gretchen


Count Eberbach in hiding


The Baroness Freimann and the Countess


 The hunters and Count Eberbach




Page initially published in  2008