Lucrezia Nelly Miricioiu
Gennaro Don Bernardini
Orsini Sara Fulgoni
Don Alfonso Mark Holland
Rustighello Andrew Rees
Gubetta Jeremy White
Astolfo Graeme Danby
Liverotto Young Hoon Heo
Vitellozzo Benjamin Segal
Gazella Manolis Papadakis
Petrucci John Lofthouse
Chelsea Opera Group Chorus and Orchestra
Reviewed by: John T. Hughes
Reviewed: 18 May, 2003
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
At the end of Chelsea Opera Group’s Lucrezia Borgia I was speaking to an Austrian lady, an inveterate operagoer, who was attending her first performance by this worthy organisation. “And they’re all amateurs: orchestra and chorus?” she asked, not quite believing that such a high standard could be achieved. Well, she believes now.
The COG chorus and orchestra were indeed on top form, and frequent attendees know that that means a good evening’s entertainment before we consider the soloists. Conducting them for the first time (and not the last, one hopes) was Dominic Wheeler, who has been in charge of a wide range of operas in various places. Working with his singers, he elicited fine phrasing and genuine excitement. That he had a good all-round cast helped.
Four young fellows, two tenors and two baritones (Messrs Heo, Segal, Papadakis and Lofthouse), more or less at the start of a career, lacked nothing as the friends of Orsini, that breeches-role being assumed by Sara Fulgoni, twenty-four hours after singing Federica in Verdi’s Luisa Miller at Covent Garden. Her full, warm tone fell pleasingly on the ear, and she showed that a strong top was at her disposal. She really seemed to be enjoying the “Brindisi”, even slightly decorating the second stanza to good effect.
The sixth member of the group of friends is Gennaro, the tenor-lead, who turns out to be Lucrezia’s son. The role was sung by American tenor Don Bernardini, who has appeared in some bel canto operas with Edita Gruberova on Nightingale CDs. Although his high notes did not have much ring to them, he did supply some stylish singing and was not afraid to fine down the voice for some phrases taken mezza voce, which was welcome, as was his attractive middle register.
Pitted against the six were the ’baddies’: Alfonso, Duke of Ferrara, his henchman Rustighello and his decidedly unsociable wife Lucrezia, with her accomplice Gubetta. As the duke, Mark Holland lacked the bottom notes but was firm in tonal production elsewhere, for the most of the time, and seemed a genuine member of the villains’ union. To Rustighello, Andrew Rees brought a very pleasant lyric tenor, cleanly textured, well supported. He deserves bigger roles, as long as nobody wants to pressurise him into essaying heavy assignments. More experienced, and always one to engage fully with whatever is happening, Jeremy White poured out blackness of tone to match the machinations of Gubetta.
And Lucrezia herself? Ah!! Lucrezia was Nelly Miricioiu. Or to put it another way: Nelly Miricioiu was Lucrezia. She is one of those singers who command. She gives her all, and by the end of the performance the listener feels that he has been as emotionally, even physically, sapped as she has, and is happy to have been so. She really uses the voice, bringing colour, expression and nuance. As I wrote in “International Record Review” of her performance in Opera Rara’s recording of Roberto Devereux, travelling through an opera with Nelly Miricioiu is an adventure. At the QEH she was in terrific form. One cannot sympathise with Lucrezia, but Miricioiu almost makes one wish to apologise for not doing so. What a pity Chelsea Opera Group is not in the CD business.