Chelsea Opera Pearl Fishers

Les Pecheurs de Perles

Leila – Elizabeth Donovan
Nadir – Colin Lee (Nadir)
Zurga – Damian Thantrey
Nourabad – Darren Jeffery

Chorus and Orchestra of Chelsea Opera Group
Felix Krieger

Reviewed by: John T. Hughes

Reviewed: 29 November, 2003
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

When people give their time and talents to bring pleasure to others, one is grateful. Those who join together under the banner of the Chelsea Opera Group have been making music for many years and pleasing their audience in the process. Their latest venture was Les Pecheurs de Perles. The enthusiasm of the singers and players who form chorus and orchestra respectively seems unbounded, so much so that one forgives a fluffed note from the brass or some scrawny sound on high from the sopranos occasionally.

This was a good evening: not one of the most memorable that COG has presented but certainly a pleasurable couple of hours. Being a concert performance, the ’production’ was better than some that have (dis)graced Covent Garden recently.

Bizet’s opera provided the COG songsters with a fair amount to sing, though the long opening chorus is just that: long, too long. Brad Cohen’s new edition restores the original ending of the duet “Au fond du temple saint”. In a note in the programme he writes that Bizet’s original, untouched by other hands, is more theatrical than the more usually encountered revision (by someone else), though Michel Poupet, who rediscovered that original (1863) score, called Bizet’s ending “an unremarkable exercise in bravura”.

The quartet of soloists contained no big names. Darren Jeffery brought firmness of tone and purpose to the role of Nourabad, the shortest and least interesting part. As Leila, Elizabeth Donovan, who represented Wales in this year’s Cardiff Singer of the World contest, had a warm middle register but a touch of shrillness on some top notes and did not ’flow’ easily in coloratura passages, but her contribution was far from being a cipher. The bottom notes in Damian Thantrey’s voice were a bit bottled, but away from those the tone became freer, more open. Greater variety in volume and colour would have been welcome, but he made a positive figure of Zurga and his voice blended well with Colin Lee’s in that aforementioned duet.

It was from Colin Lee that the best singing, per se, came. His voice is not a large one but it was used stylishly. The aria “Je crois entendre encore” contained all that was laudable in his whole performance, encapsulating all his good work. It was sung with delicious sweetness, the dulcet tone not sacrificed to volume, and skilful use was made of head-voice. Highly satisfying.

The young German conductor Felix Krieger drew from the orchestra the necessary variety and shaped well both the exuberant and the reflective sections of the work.

It was a pity that some members of the audience could not be bothered to smother their coughing. One noisy fellow belched forth loud, uncovered coughs as if simply unconcerned about the noise. His is the sort of ignorance often prefaced by “pig–“. The announcement about switching off mobile ’phones should include a request for coughing to be controlled. The Festival Hall used to print a note about the decibels created by a cough.

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