The artistic director of The Grange Festival — a month-long staging of classic opera in the south of England — selects his favourite works from Christie’s Classic Week in London
Inaugurated in 2017 under the artistic directorship of Michael Chance, The Grange Festival — a summer of live opera performed in the grounds of a 19th-century mansion in Northington, Hampshire, in the south of England — revives a long tradition of classical music at the Grade II-listed house. This year’s festival, which runs until 8 July, includes performances of Candide, The Abduction of Seraglio, The Barber of Seville and Agrippina, with music by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.
Himself a classically trained countertenor, Chance has performed at Sydney Opera House, Carnegie Hall, Berlin’s Philharmonie and London’s Wigmore Hall. He toured with the English National Opera, and won a Grammy for his participation in Handel’s Semele for Deutsche Grammophon. In 2009, he was awarded a CBE for services to music.
Ahead of Christie’s Classic Week sales in London, we asked Chance to select his favourite lots from across the auctions. These are his picks:
‘Félicité-Louise-Julie-Constance de Durfort, the second wife of a Napoleonic general, is painted in Orphic mode, a probably unaccustomed lyre to hand, charming the Arcadian landscape. She sadly lived a short life, but was painted in pastoral guise by Merry-Joseph Blondel several times. Clearly a beauty, she charms on canvas as she no doubt did in person.’
‘A civilised nation honours its artists. How pleasing to see a famous player of the natural (valveless) horn — Frédéric Duvernoy, a star of the Paris Opéra — painted with luscious brilliance. I note the fullness of his lips, his embouchure prominent, and the gleam of his fully engaged eyes. And, of course, the proud display of his medals.’
‘This is as much a cartoon as a figurative watercolour, loaded with wit and a sense of place and time. This is a different world from the airy elegance and exquisite colouring of the Tiepolo of Palladio and Venice. One is tempted to add a witty tag line. I like the distribution of the weight on the widely-placed feet, the leaning forward, the near grotesqueness of the rather full wig, with its dromeda top.’
‘This looks as modern as it is ancient. It is inviting and alive. Early ceramic work so often bears the brilliance and spirit of a community as resonantly as any medium. Form and function combine here to powerful effect.’
‘There is entrancing physicality and realism in this painting. The redness of her left eye, presumably after wiping away tears; the enfolding of a voluptuous ringlet between her right index and third fingers, so that her third and fourth fingers are joined in the elegant gesture of the baroque dancer; the open book, presumably a devotional text; the sensuality of the gossamer fabric over her breast; and the powerful upward gaze. I see in this painting the genius of a precise moment caught and communicated.’
‘The profusion of riches, the ambition of the architecture, the amount of detail, and the operatic drama in this devotional piece are awe-inspiring. And the presence of lapis lazuli never disappoints. I remember, as a callow teenager newly arrived in Florence, sitting next to the British writer Harold Acton at a ridiculously grand dinner, as he discoursed seamlessly on the delights of lapis lazuli. It has worked its magic on me ever since.’
‘Life can never be complete without a bonbonnière to hand. The beautifully executed harbour scenes painted on the 18th-century German bonbonnière pictured above bear close inspection. There is an Ottoman feel to the main image on the lid. The reflections in the water shimmer delightfully, and the whole tells familiar marine tales. I particularly like the backward swagger of the Pasha as he surveys his domain.’
‘Oh to have the perfect room in which to display this supremely elegant cabinet! Everything about it is so right, including the polish and patina of the mahogany. Where form and function meet so pleasingly is the achievement of one of our great craftsmen.’
The Grange Festival runs until 8 July 2018. Christie’s Classic Week, London, 3-13 July