Chelsea Opera Group – Idomeneo

Idomeneo [Concert performance; sung in Italian]

Ilia – Elizabeth Atherton
Idomeneo – Paul Nilon
Idamante – Lina Markeby
Elettra – Alwyn Mellor
Arbace – Iain Paton
High Priest – Colin Judson
The Voice – Mark Beesley

Chorus & Orchestra of Chelsea Opera Group
Felix Krieger

Reviewed by: John T. Hughes

Reviewed: 25 November, 2006
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London

There is no definitive score of “Idomeneo”. In the October 2006 issue of “International Record Review”, I wrote about five somewhat elderly recordings of the work, no two of which were alike in content. Even in casting there were differences, for Idamante was allotted to a soprano in some and to a tenor in others. In most of them Arbace was denied his arias. Chelsea Opera Group had a soprano Idamante and included Arbace’s ‘Se il tuo duol’. Who, though, made the silly decision to omit Elettra’s ‘D’Oreste, d’Ajace’, a splendid vengeance aria near the end?

Leaving it out rendered Elettra’s character incomplete and meant that we had page after page, including the tedious, long recitative of Ilia and Idamante, with no full aria, making an anti-climax. If it was a question of time, many lines should have been cut from that recit. ‘D’Oreste’ is a fine piece, and I doubt if I was the only person present who would have liked to have heard Alwyn Mellor tackling it. The omission really annoyed me, spoiling the end of the evening, which was a pity because until then everything had gone well.

A German gentleman sitting next to me was impressed by the fact that chorus and orchestra were non-professional. He said that many professional choruses in Germany were not as good, including that of the Opera Chorus at Bonn, where he lived. It was pleasing to hear such praise from an ‘outsider’, as it were. Some of the chorus’s best work was in ‘Placido il mar’, sung with pleasing gradations of volume and weighting, with attractive quiet singing, The orchestra played to its expected high standards, and one noted the flute and horn contribution to Ilia’s ‘Se il padre perdei’. Conductor Felix Krieger took the score briskly but without rushing, and there was certainly no plodding.

As Idomeneo. Paul Nilon gave one of his best performances, He may not have the richest, most beautiful voice but he has a fine technique, good breath control and sings with sensitivity and musicality, and he won the loudest applause with his ‘Fuor del mar’, sung with a confident approach, shirking none of the florid divisions and varying his tone while conquering the difficulties. That aria is the showiest section of Idomeneo’s music, but Nilon was as adroit elsewhere, phrasing intelligently at all times.

Nerves probably caused some unsteadiness in Elizabeth Atherton.s opening recitative, but when she floated a lovely, focused note on “adorerò” in the following aria all seemed well, She then went from strength to strength, making an expressive and touching Ilia, which is as it should be, with pellucid tone in high-lying lines. Ilia’s lover, Idamante, was taken by Lina Markeby from Sweden. Listed as a mezzo, she must be one of the lightest of that breed whom I have encountered. Her concentrated tone has little vibrato, and I wondered at times about intonation. I think she was all right in that respect, but hers is that sort of voice. It has rather a fixed colour, but she sang neatly and musically.

Alwyn Mellor, with a bigger, fuller sound than her female colleagues pssessed, had the measure of Elettra, whether angry in ‘Tutte nel cor’ or more gentle in ‘Idol mio’, making that omission even more reprehensible, Arbace, whose second aria was not sung (a more usual cut), was taken by Iain Paton. The lowest notes of ‘Se il tuo duol’ were outside his comfort zone, but he did not resort to aspirates in the long runs.

It remains to say that the people who did not occupy the empty seats were the losers. Will they be at Cadogan hall for Bellini’s “Beatrice di Tenda” with the indomitable Nelly Miricioiu on Sunday 18 March?

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