Chelsea Opera Group – Beatrice di Tenda

Beatrice di Tenda

Beatrice – Nelly Miricioiu
Agnese – Anne Mason
Orombello – Don Bernardini
Filippo – Stephen Gadd
Anichino / Rizzardo – Paul O’Neill

Chorus and Orchestra of Chelsea Opera Group
Brad Cohen

Reviewed by: John T. Hughes

Reviewed: 18 March, 2007
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London

It is rather surprising that although Bellini’s tragedy has four important roles, to only two did he allot an aria: Beatrice and Filippo. Various duets do draw in the mezzo and tenor, and towards the end of the opera is a beautiful trio, in which Orombello is heard singing from his prison cell (or from near the back of the platform at Cadogan Hall). The work’s première, in Venice in 1833, was not a success, though succeeding evenings were greeted with more approval. Through the years “Beatrice di Tenda” has never gained the popularity of most of Bellini’s other operas, although various recordings exist, both from the studio and live.

Beatrice is married to Filippo, who, having tired of her, is in love with Agnese, who in turn seeks the affections of Drombello, but he completes the square by declaring his love for Beatrice. Well, not quite the square, for Beatrice loves nobody. William Weaver wrote that her ruling motive is outraged, noble pride.

The opera has enough opportunity for the chorus for Chelsea Opera Group to add it to previous undertakings. Yet again this worthy band of devoted amateurs has enabled many, including me, to hear a work for the first time in a live performance.

Enthusiastically conducted by Brad Cohen, his body swaying as he cued in the chorus or sections of the orchestra, the work revealed many admirable contents. In the programme note, the famous conductor Vittorio Gui is quoted as saying that “Beatrice is, musically speaking, one of Bellini’s richest operas”. (It didn’t stop his alteration of the ending at a performance at Palermo in 1959.) Cohen elicited some lyrical playing from the orchestra in inward-looking passages and brought forth a blaze of sound in more outgoing sections, such as the finale to Act One. The chorus maintained the high standard that we have come to expect from it. Cohen has done good work for COG over the years, and this evening proved no exception.

The first soloist to be heard was Stephen Gadd. Some vocal wobbles were apparent early on, but the voice settled down to be quite commanding. He gave his all in the Act Two aria and cabaletta in which Filippo condemns Beatrice. Definitely in good voice was Anne Mason, ringing out confidently as Agnese vents her anger on Orombello for preferring Beatrice: one almost felt the venom, without its distorting the musical line. She showed the other side of Agnese when that lady confesses to Beatrice that she was responsible for the latter’s predicament. It was good to see and hear her again. Paul O’Neill, now studying at the new academy in Cardiff, is someone to watch.

The American tenor Don Bernardini was appearing with COG for the second time. Possessor of a focused sound, not huge but well projected, he sang easily and phrased musically. Bellini did not give Orombello the frequent high notes of Arturo (“I puritani”) or Pollione (“Norma”), perhaps because Alberico Curioni, who created the role, had also been the first Pollione, as whom he was not entirely successful. Orombello does have the lovely tune which opens the trio mentioned in my first paragraph. Bernardini delivered it with elegance and sweetness.

It is the soprano, though, who takes the main role. COG was fortunate to secure the services of Nelly Miricioiu, again. She recently added the punishing part of Abigaille (“Nabucco”) to her repertoire, albeit in the small theatre at Rennes. There was none of Abigaille’s barnstorming rantings from Beatrice. Miricioiu sang her opening aria with great sensitivity and restraint, shaping the music eloquently. There was, when needed, flexibility for scale passages, plus the vocal shine on upper notes. She transmitted Beatrice’s feeling successfully and made a big contribution to the evening’s enjoyment.

The lighting in the first half made it very difficult to see the faces of the soloists; it was slightly better in Act Two. From where I sat, all the participants could be heard clearly. COG’s next opera will be Bizet’s “La jolie fille de Perth”, to be given at Cadogan hall on Saturday 30 June.

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