Verdi unconditionally triumphed in the Cadogan Hall when COG performed Un ballo in maschera

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Verdi, Un ballo in maschera: Soloists, Chelsea Opera Group Chorus and Orchestra / Anthony Negus (conductor). Cadogan Hall, London, 22.10.2023. (AK)

COG in rehearsal at the Cadogan Hall, picture by chorister John Nyerges

Amelia – Nadine Benjamin
Gustavo – Charne Rochford
Oscar – Alison Langer
Anckarström – Phillip Rhodes
Ulrica – Maria Schellenberg
Count Ribbing – Thomas D Hopkinson
Count Horn – Jack Holton
A Judge – Magnus Walker
Christiano – Arthur Bruce
A Servant – John Vallance

Orchestra leader – Diana Cummings
Chorus director – Lyndsay Bramley

Verdi unconditionally triumphed in the Cadogan Hall when Chelsea Opera Group performed Un ballo in maschera. Few blemishes were apparent here and there – no more than in most opera performances in a variety of environments – but the overall result was quality and joy.

Right from the start, the dominating feeling in the hall was genuine care for the music, for the performers and for the community of people who united to make the event possible.

Chelsea Opera Group is an amateur chorus and orchestra, performing operas with professional conductors, a professional orchestra leader and soloists. They seem to function like a club, willing to put in time and energy to tackle great music in lovely environments such as the beautiful Cadogan Hall.

On this occasion – and perhaps at other COG opera performances – full orchestra, chorus and conductor were on stage. The solo singers were placed in front yet negotiating the guidance of conductor Anthony Negus very well.

This was a concert performance, everybody performing from music; however, the drama of the story was not only evident but truly gripping. Arguably one could claim that performing such dramatic solo roles from music might diminish the credibility of the drama, but dramatic credibility is already diminished in the libretto by Anckarström not recognising his wife Amelia and her voice because she wears a veil. (I recall English National Opera’s performances in the 1970s with the super-voiced and super-size Rita Hunter as Amelia, and with tenor Tom Swift having to pretend he did not recognise her). It is a shame that Christiano the sailor was standing about ten meters from Ulrica when he gave his hand to her to have his future read. However, most of the time the singers managed to create the illusion of a staged performance, gripping us all.

Anthony Negus

The performance was led by quality and experience. Conductor Anthony Negus, mostly revered for his Wagner performances, guided his performers with care, subtle drive, and inspiration. He was energetic and tireless throughout, although standing for a full opera’s length while conducting at a certain age would be difficult for great many bus pass holders. Orchestra leader Diana Cummings also projected her decades of experience and love of music to the whole ensemble. Her violin playing is also unblemished, as it was clearly audible in the stage band section – here played on stage – in the final scene of the opera.

All solo singers were excellent, particularly the three main protagonists which were Charne Rochford (Gustavo), Nadine Benjamin (Amelia) and Phillip Rhodes (Anckarström).

However, my favourite was Alison Langer (Oscar) who livened the stage with her dramatic flair and excellent singing. Admittedly, the part of Oscar is the most interesting in the drama but there are many approaches to the role. Arthur Bruce (Christiano) also displayed strength both vocally and dramatically.

Last but not least, John Vallance (Amelia’s servant) gave a masterclass on genuine love for the whole: he sang in the chorus, came forward to deliver the servant’s solo with perfect intonation, diction and dramatic dedication…and then returned to the chorus. Vallance embodied the spirit of the Chelsea Opera Group which hopefully will continue for a long time.

Agnes Kory

2 thoughts on “Verdi unconditionally triumphed in the Cadogan Hall when COG performed <i>Un ballo in maschera</i>”

  1. How nice to read such a justifiably positive review: I agree with every word!! Anthony Negus indeed gave us a gripping theatrical experience despite the absence of theatre, largely because he brought the same light, taut, concentrated experience to Verdi that he invariably brings to Wagner. I imagine it was like hearing Keilberth if he ever did Un ballo. Nadine Benjamin enthralled as Amelia (what a lovely musical passage when she succumbs to the King!) and Alison Langer’s delightful Oscar indeed benefitted from her having sung the role for Holland Park Opera four or five years ago. Maria Schellenberg’s Ulrica was magnificently commanding, and the King, Charne Rochford, as a late replacement had the measure of his complex part very well. The orchestra, though, was only adequate: here the COG could profitably strengthen the main sections with experienced professionals.

  2. We’ll deserved praise. Having taken part as a member of the chorus I concur with every word.


Leave a Comment