Chelsea Opera Lakmé


Lakmé – Sine Bundgaard
Gérald – Stephen Chaundy
Nilakantha – Paul Whelan
Mallika – Jacqueline Miura
Frédéric – Alex Ashworth
Ellen – Giselle Minns
Rose – Joanna Burton
Miss Bentson – Carole Wilson
Hadji – Neville Ackerman

Chelsea Opera Group Chorus & Orchestra
Howard Williams

Reviewed by: John T. Hughes

Reviewed: 30 November, 2002
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

Perhaps it was partly because I find a number of dull patches in Lakmé and partly because a trapped nerve was causing sickening pain in my left arm that I did not experience the pleasure that I usually receive from Chelsea Opera Group’s presentations. Consequently add 10% enjoyment to what I have written below.

The enthusiasm of the orchestra and chorus was evident and standards were as high as we expect them to be, with all elements pulling together under the direction of Howard Williams. The tenors always do well, but I bet they would like more recruits, if only to take their number from 12 to match the basses’ 20.

Among the supporting cast, Carole Wilson was a formidable Miss Bentson, fussing and shepherding in firm tones. It is a role that she sang in Amsterdam under Patrick Fournillier a year ago, though the relay over the Internet announced her as Mallika, who was actually Marina Comparato. The warm, rounded sound produced by Alex Ashworth as Frédéric was attractive: he is certainly worth hearing again.

Paul Whelan was probably the best known of the singers. Some rustiness infiltrated his tone in the upper middle of the voice (a little awkward patch before clarity returns for the top notes) in Nilakantha’s Act 2 aria, but elsewhere his tone poured out smoothly, especially in “Au milieu des chants d’allégresse”, the scene of the priest and his conspirators. Stephen Chaundy stylish singing was somewhat nullified by a backwardly placed and whitish voice, the lack of vocal colouring rendering the character of Gérald less interesting musically than it should be, but the sensitivity was welcome.

The evening’s best singing came from Sine Bundgaard, a young Danish soprano in the role of the eponymous priestess. The famous “Bell Song”, for some the highlight of the opera (but not for me), was creditably sung, but it was in other passages that she produced her most enjoyable contributions, as in the duets with Gérald and in “Sous le ciel tout étoile”. Throughout the evening she graced her role with some beautifully poised upper notes. The middle of the voice had more warmth than, say, the very French timbre of Mado Robin. Interpretatively, the young Dane responded with varied reactions, subtly changing weight of tone and dynamics, offering the colouring that her tenor partner lacked. This was a character with whom one could empathise. Whoever it was at Chelsea Opera who engaged her should be congratulated.

What a splendid organisation Chelsea Opera Group is: a thrice-a-year flowering on London’s musical scene. The next concert will be Catalani’s La Wally on 23 March. Be there!

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