Chelsea Opera Group’s Excellent Revival of Rare Verdi

14/06/2014

, Verdi Stiffelio Verdi  Soloists, chorus and orchestra of Chelsea Opera Group, Brad Cohen (conductor). Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, 8.6.2014 (CC)

 (concert performance)

Stiffelio  – Peter Auty
Lina – Nelly Miriciou
Jorg – David Soar
Stankar – Gerard Quinn
Rafaelle di Leuthold – Andrew Rees
Dorotea – Sarah Champion
Federico Di Frengel – Samuel Smith

Verdi’s opera Stiffelio has had a chequered history. Premiered in 1850 in Trieste, and sitting between Luisa Miller and Rigoletto in the timeline of Verdi’s operatic output, it resurfaced in a different form as Aroldo. Stiffelio itself was not performed again until it was revived in Parma in 1968. Some readers may remember the 1993 Covent Garden production, others the 1983 Met traversal.

The story is hardly typical fare of the period, taking a member of the church and exposing his passionate reactions to his wife’s infidelity for all to see. Of course the crux of the situation is the conflict between human emotions of anger and revenge and the forgiveness written into the Christian ethos. The score, too, has an exploratory element about it, a sort of structural freshness which enables the various arias and ensembles to emerge with a compelling sense of rightness.

This performance was several leagues above the last time I encountered the Chelsea company  – in Leonore, back in 2005. The casting here was carefully considered, and in particular the titular hero Stiffelio, here taken by Peter Auty, shone. His voice is lyric yet not without its heroic tinge, despite the fact that he seemed unable to find the higher dynamic levels. Auty’s legato, though, so essential to true Verdi singing, was astonishingly sure, his tone unfailingly warm. His voice is strong in all its registers, enabling particular focus in the lower register.

Many had doubtless come to hear Nelly Miricioiu. Blessed with plenty of stage presence but not always comfortable to listen to, her voice could be piercing; in compensation for this was the sense of dramatic involvement she brought. But there was the distinct and lingering feeling of a voice at the end of its long and distinguished career. Canadian mezzo Sarah Champion, herself a student of Miricioiu, was by far the discovery of the evening. Her assumption of the part of Dorotea, Lina”s cousin, was little short of magnificent. She clearly has a wide repertoire, as she has taken part in a staged setting for American Opera Theater  of Messiaen’s song cycle Harawi. Here she was fully in Verdian mode, making every phrase count. The overriding impression was that one wished Verdi had written more for Dorotea.

The other roles were carefully cast, and there was not a weak singer among them. As Stankar, baritone Gerard Quinn proved a true Verdian, imposing and up to every challenge the composer posed for him. Baritone David Soar was an assured Jorg; both tenor Anfrew Rees and Samuel Smith were strong as Raffaele and Federico respectively.

But actually the real star was the orchestra. Right from the start their credentials were displayed in a performance of an overture that could so easily become hackneyed. The long trumpet melody is a case in point, faultlessly delivered here by Stephen Willcox. Brad Cohen clearly has skills as an operatic conductor that made him perfect for this performance: he can follow a singer beautifully yet still shape the whole convincingly. The orchestra clearly liked him, if the sheer concentration level was anything to go by.

Of course the dramatic element of a staging was missing, but concert performances do give one the opportunity to come head-to-head with the music, unimpeded by controversial, modernist stagings. That this performance succeeded so splendidly is testament to the dedication of all involved. A terrific evening.

Colin Clarke

 

 

 

 

Comments

Comments

  1. Laura says:

    The “New Zealand mezzo Sarah Chapman” you speak of is in fact CANADIAN mezzo Sarah CHAMPION! We would appreciate it if you could amend the review accordingly, particularly as you make such fantastic comments about her! Thanks.

  2. Laura says:

    It still says CHAPMAN. She’s called Sarah CHAMPION!
    Thanks.

  3. Stan says:

    Sorry. Hopefully got it right now..

  4. Laura Childs says:

    It still says CHAPMAN!
    “Canadian mezzo Sarah Chapman”
    it should be CHAMPION!

  5. Laura Childs says:

    Many thanks! It is now correct!

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