Giovanna d’Arco

Giovanna d’Arco

Giovanna – Claire Rutter
Carlo – Peter Auty
Giacomo – Ashley Holland
Talbot – Richard Wiegold
Delil – Simon Bainbridge

Chelsea Opera Group Chorus and Orchestra
Dominic Wheeler

Reviewed by: John T. Hughes

Reviewed: 5 June, 2005
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

The Chelsea Opera Group turned to one of Verdi’s lesser-known works for the summer engagement in the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Of the cast of five in “Giovanna d’Arco”, which was first given in 1845, only three have a substantial role. Giovanna (Joan of Arc) dies from wounds rather than at the stake. Historical truth is jettisoned. We have a love interest between Giovanna and Carlo (King Charles VII) and division between her and her father, Giacomo, until they are finally reconciled.

Those who have never attended a COG performance may not appreciate the hard work and enthusiasm of these amateur performers, which always result in an evening of high standards (and this one was among the best). As the group operates at a financial loss it needs support, but even more so does it deserves support, so let me immediately draw attention to the next performance: Beethoven’s “Leonore” at the QEH on 26 November. But I am rushing ahead.

From the start of “Giovanna d’Arco” Dominic Wheeler was caught up in the drama, conveying the opera’s intensity through the orchestra, on form behind Diana Cummings’s leadership, and the chorus, which was in good voice: a tribute to Christopher Field’s training. Over the years, we have come to expect spirited contributions, but it does no harm to say so occasionally. One admires the dedication of all these people.

In front of chorus and orchestra were three accomplished singers. Peter Auty, in the largest assignment in which I have heard him, was smoothly reflective in Carlo’s account of his dream in the ‘Prologue’, while in more expansive moments he found the tonal strength to express the King’s feelings towards Giovanna. He did seem rather tense of body, not relaxed, which was reflected in slight tightness of sound at times, but he gave a convincing performance.

The rounded baritone voice of Ashley Holland was easily produced, rolling out in an unrestricted flow, with a dark tinge that accorded with Giacomo’s seeming obduracy.

The role of Giovanna was successfully taken by Claire Rutter. Not only did she display lucent tone it was also cleanly produced, well supported and steady, and crowned by some pin-pointedly accurate top notes that were a joy in themselves. The vocal precision enabled her to be heard clearly in ensemble: not because of shrillness or selfishness but by dint of the voice being focused. She was also inside the role, effective at every turn. This was another enjoyable evening by courtesy of the Chelsea Opera Group, but remember, remember the 26th of November.

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