Verdi’s Alzira on Sunday 2nd June 2013 – Queen Elizabeth Hall
To celebrate Verdi’s genius in this bicentennial year, we have chosen the little performed Alzira, knowing that our audiences always enjoy “early” Verdi. This opera is not that early – it was his eighth, composed hard on the heels of Giovanna d’Arco (premiered in the same year) and before Attila (composed the following year). He accepted the commission from the San Carlo opera as a “career move” involving an important opera house and the opportunity to work with one of the best librettists. It was an offer that he could not refuse! He composed it in a rush, as a result of illness, as if on auto-pilot. Later, he was quite dismissive of it.
However, if Verdi was on auto-pilot in 1845, he was still offering a great deal more than most of his contemporaries. This opera provides a great deal, even though the level of invention is not fully sustained, but this is true of many of his early operas. The score inevitably has a lot of energy in the orchestra and plenty of strong melody. His ensembles are particularly well written and there is a stunning duet for Alzira and Zamoro. Alzira’s Act One cavatina “Da Gusman, su fragil barca” is graceful and her cabaletta “Nell’astro che più fulgido” is thrilling. We are delighted to welcome back in the title role, Majella Cullagh, who has so much experience of rising to these dual challenges.
In A History of Opera – The Last 400 Years, Carolyn Abbate and Roger Parker, writing about the young Verdi, observe that “His operas of the 1840s feature women of two distinct types. The first are heroines of the conventional feminine sort, with much fluttering and fainting amid showers of vocal ornament. Verdi could manage this when his sopranos proved incapable of anything more robust; he did so, however, by resorting to a rather old-fashioned musical language. He was more at home with an opposite and almost wholly new type – sopranos who sacrificed beauty of tone and ornament at the altar of sheer forcefulness. This new species adopted what became Verdian trademarks...”
In their view, “Verdi’s early operas are in many ways predictable. Like Donizetti and Bellini, he preferred to follow the old forms and change operatic manners from within, in his case by single-mindedly raising the emotional temperature, forcing the voices into new, more declamatory modes.” For them, the contribution of the young Verdi meant that “Operatic forms, like operatic space and operatic characters, had quite suddenly become more unpredictable.” We are delighted to welcome back Gianluca Marcianò to conduct this opera of enormous vitality and there is no doubt that, for those who love Verdi‘s operas (and who doesn’t?), it will be a fascinating evening.
Wagner’s Die Feen on Sunday 17th March 2013 – Queen Elizabeth Hall
The fact that the performance of Die Feen was sold out says a great deal about the level of interest amongst our supporters in particular, and opera goers in general, in Wagner’s first opera (which he never saw performed), written at the age of 20. We attracted more reviewers than usual and I cannot do justice to them here, but I am very grateful to them for coming and making their reviews available. Most of them can be found on our website.
Mark Pullinger writing for Opera Britannia, captured the essence of the evening: “Part of the fun in hearing operas from early in their composer’s careers is in ideas and influences and well as spotting pre-echoes of later works.” ... “I heard plenty of Weber ( especially Der Freischütz), Lortzing and Marschner, as well as hints of Beethoven and Mendelssohn – not from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, alas; Wagner’s fairies are less ethereal and more of a scary prospect, especially the meddling pair encountered here.” However, he felt that Der Fliegende Holländer and Lohengrin were not too far away.
Mark Ronan in his online Theatre Reviews referred to “precognitive echoes of Tannhäuser in the music.” “Conducting by Dominic Wheeler produced fine energetic playing from the orchestra bringing this early Wagner very much to life ... Danish tenor David Danholt singing strongly in the role of Arindal and New Zealand soprano Kirstin Sharpin singing beautifully as Ada” “But what a treat it was to hear such an excellent performance and congratulations to Chelsea Opera Group and conductor Dominic Wheeler for putting it on”.
Richard Whitehouse in Classical Source liked the soloists. “Mark Stone made a dashing impression as Morald, while Elisabeth Meister was thrillingly cast as Lora...” He then reflected on the conductor. “Dominic Wheeler rarely disappoints in operatic performances, and his dynamic projection of the expressive highpoints coupled with ample attention to detail enabled one to appreciate orchestral felicities more fully.”
The Guardian’s Martin Kettle wrote, “All the principals did well. David Danholt was a tirelessly eloquent Arindal, Kirstin Sharpin a rewardingly focused Ada – particularly fine in her big act-two scene – and Elisabeth Meister a striking Lora. The dramatic mezzo of Emma Carrington, as Farzana also caught the ear. A thoroughly rewarding curiosity.”
Our 2013/14 Season
23rd November 2013: opera to be announced, at the Cadogan Hall
16th March 2014: Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi with Ana Maria Labin as Giulietta and Catherine Carby as Romeo under the baton of Robin Newton at the Queen Elizabeth Hall
8th June 2014: Verdi’s Stiffelio with Nelly Miricioiu as Lina at the Queen Elizabeth Hall
19th September 2014: The Lord Mayor’s Opera – A Gala concert in the Guildhall
We are very grateful to all the members of our supporters’ group, Cognoscenti, for the contributions that they make financially to COG and for supporting our performances and events. Those who contribute at the Virtuoso and Aria levels are greatly appreciated. We run a very tight ship in terms of costs but rehearsal facilities are increasingly expensive and in short supply. Our reserves have suffered as a result of the financial crisis, certainly in terms of income. We are, therefore, very dependent on our loyal supporters.
If you would like to join Cognoscenti or increase your level of membership, please contact Vanessa Dennison on 07789 935357 or or by email via our Contacts page.
One of the easy ways to make a real difference is by leaving something to COG in your will. We will recognise your gift in our programmes and for a significant legacy we would dedicate a performance to the memory of the donor. I can provide a draft codicil to make it even easier.
Our Orchestra in Salisbury Cathedral
Our orchestra recently celebrated Britten’s centenary with the Salisbury Music Society in the magnificent setting of Salisbury Cathedral with an appropriately timed performance of The Spring Symphony. The programme included Wagner’s Good Friday Music and Rutter’s The Mass of the Children. They will be performing Berlioz’s mighty Te Deum on 14th December 2013 and I highly recommend it.
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