Chelsea Opera Group – Le Villi & Cavalleria Rusticana

Puccini
Le Villi

Anna – Camilla Roberts
Roberto – Aldo di Toro
Guglielmo – Simon Thorpe

Mascagni
Cavalleria Rusticana

Santuzza – Alwyn Mellor
Turiddu – Luís Rodriguez
Alfio – Simon Thorpe
Lola – Claire Bradshaw
Mamma Lucia – Elizabeth Sikora

Chelsea Opera Group and Orchestra
Andrew Greenwood

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Reviewed by: John T. Hughes

Reviewed: 26 February, 2005
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

One has come to expect variety from the Chelsea Opera Group. The previous performance, in November, was of Glinka’s “A Life for the Tsar”, rarely heard in Britain, whereas on 5 July the eximious Nelly Miricioiu will appear in Verdi’s “Giovanna d’Arco”. The latest offering consisted of a double-bill, in which Puccini’s first opera, “Le Villi”, infrequently encountered, preceded the better know “Cavalleria Rusticana”, the initial and most successful opera by Mascagni. From “Le Villi”, Puccini progressed to many successes; Mascagni was never to equal ‘Cav’ in popular esteem.

The male side of the COG Chorus was stronger in attack than the female section, which was more timorous on opening notes, as though nobody was quite willing to take the first step, but all played their part, whether as the Villi or the villagers.

Neither opera has a large cast: three in “Le Villi”, five in the Mascagni. Only baritone Simon Thorpe was common to both. His tone was rather backward in the Puccini but became freer as Alfio, particularly in the duet with Santuzza.

Camilla Roberts as Anna was warm in tone, though she did not have enough bite in the lower reaches for this role: a shade too soft-grained. She is due to represent Wales in this year’s “Cardiff Singer of the World”. Alwyn Mellor, more experienced, found the drama (or melodrama) in Santuzza without chewing the scenery. Again, though, one missed strong, Italianate heft in the bottom register. Claire Bradshaw, a better singer than the short role of Lola suggests, delivered her little song smoothly, while Elizabeth Sikora, with some telling facial expressions, brought firm mezzo darkness to her small assignment. One day I should like to hear her in a larger part, such as, say, Taven in “Mireille”.

After the performance I overheard a member of the audience commenting that one of the tenors had the better voice but that the other was the better singer. I know just what he meant. Australian Aldo di Toro took the role of Roberto in “Le Villi”. His voice is still a lyric one rather than lirico spinto, and Roberto sat well for him. He phrased sensibly, giving a well-shaped account of the lovely aria “Torna ai felici dì”. In November, di Toro had given an enjoyable programme in the “Rosenblatt Recital Series” at St John’s, Smith Square. COG would do well to book him again.

Mexican tenor Luís Rodriguez, the only singer not to use a score, caught the brash devil-may-care attitude of Turiddu, and his voice rang freely and rather extravagantly. This was a spinto sound, not always under perfect control. Watching him, I wondered if hand gestures were the exclusive property of tenors.

The orchestra, under Andrew Greenwood, had no inhibitions in the infernal dances of “Le Villi”, in which the players seemed to revel, yet brought sweetness to the Intermezzo in “Cavalleria Rusticana”.

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