Wally Alwyn Mellor
Hagenbach David Barrell
Gellner Simon Neal
Walter Claire Wild
The Old Soldier Mark Beesley
Stromminger Iain Paterson
Afra Anna Burford
Chorus and Orchestra of Chelsea Opera Group
Reviewed by: John T. Hughes
Reviewed: 23 March, 2003
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
From the Orient to the Tyrol: to be more specific, Chelsea Opera Group, that most worthy fount of musical enthusiasm, set a course from Délibes’s Lakme, the previous offering, to Catalani’s La Wally, set amid the Alps.
The opera’s premiere took place in 1892 at La Scala, the title-role taken by Hariclea Darclee, who later created Tosca and Mascagni’s Iris. La Wally is not crammed with what have become famous excerpts, the only well known piece being “Ebben? Ne andro lontana”.
That comes very near the end of Act 1, which is not the strongest act, despite the aria and the powerful duet leading in to it between Wally and Gellner, to whom Wally’s father has promised her in marriage. It’s rather slow to start, and the little song sung by Wally’s friend Walter (a ’trouser’ role) is not tuneful enough for a folksong and lacks the ’dignity’ of an aria. It rather rejected the efforts of Claire Wild, the most responsive member of the cast, to make much of it.
The three later acts find the drama more marked, until the climax of the work, when Hagenbach, whom Wally loves in spite of many obstacles in their relationship, is swept away by an avalanche, causing Wally to throw herself after him.
David Lloyd-Jones led the COG forces, shaping the music intelligently whatever the context. One knows from experience that COG’s orchestra and chorus is far, far more than just a bunch of willing amateurs. Having listened the night before to the unsteady, scrawny-toned sopranos in the Metropolitan Opera chorus in the broadcast of Verdi’s Otello, I thought how much easier on the ears were COG’s ladies.
The role of Wally is not an easy one, but Alwyn Mellor rose to the challenge. Perhaps a bit more nuancing of the music would have been welcome, but she produced the strength and firmness of tone for the more robust vocal outpourings, striking her upper notes with precision. The top is rather unusual in that it has a rather tubular quality, narrowly focused, with no vibrato: more Germanic than Italianate, but effective.
Hagenbach does not have the prominence that most of Puccini’s tenor parts do. The ex-baritone David Barrell has moved up a vocal notch, though his rather steely tone is not the most ingratiating. The notes were there but no plushness of sound. That came more from the young baritone Simon Neal. There was a hardness to the tone occasionally, not unsuited to Gellner, and he was pushed to (but not beyond) his upper limits by the awkwardly high tessitura of the role. He is certainly someone to watch. COG should invite him again.
Anna Burford brought her dark mezzo to telling effect in the less than rewarding part of Afra. As Stromminger, Wally’s father, who is not heard after Act 1, Iain Paterson produced a richer, juicier sound than fellow bass Mark Beesley, whose voice was softer-grained, but both contributed positively to what was another good showing by this laudable group.
The next presentation will be Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on 18 May. One hears that the splendid Nelly Miricioiu is due to sing Lucrezia. Need I say more?