Margherita d’Anjou – A Semi-serious Opera in Two Acts

Margherita – Annick Massis
Duke of Lavarenne – Bruce Ford
Isaura – Patricia Bardon
Richard, Duke of Gloucester – Pauls Putnins
Belmonte – Alastair Miles
Michele – Fabio Previati
Bellapunta – Colin Lee
Orner – Roland Wood

Highlanders, English and French soldiers – The Geoffrey Mitchell Choir

London Philharmonic Orchestra
David Parry

Reviewed by: John T. Hughes

Reviewed: 2 November, 2002
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

The first performance of Meyerbeer’s opera Margherita d’Anjou in Britain proved highly enjoyable, with fine contributions from all concerned. This rarity was given its première at La Scala in 1820, the fourth of its composer’s Italian operas. The performance under review was to an enthusiastic audience.

One notices more than a glance towards Rossini, but not slavish copying. How different, though, is this opera from Meyerbeer’s grand works for Paris in later years. The colourful orchestration, with many variations in the combinations of the eight woodwind instruments particularly noticeable, added greatly to one’s pleasure.

It is a work of its time, with arias, duets and ensembles. The First Act culminates in a long (23 minutes) finale, whereas the of Act 2 (and end of the opera) comes by way of a rondo for the mezzo-soprano, Isaura, possibly given to her rather than to the eponymous soprano because Rosa Mariani, who created Isaura, was a more famous singer than Corolina Pellegrini, the Margherita.

In this London performance the French soprano Annick Massis was Margherita, actually wife of Henry VI of England, though librettist Felice Romani linked her with Henry IV. Massis is the possessor of a well-supported and steady voice, supple and agile enough for the many divisions and roulades allotted to the role by Meyerbeer. She crowned the Act One finale with a long-held top D and emerged triumphant from her Act 2 aria “Perchè mai sedurmi amore” with its trick cabaletta. In that scene she was ably partnered by the sweet violin-playing, an extra enjoyment, of Pieter Schoeman, the joint recipient of well deserved applause.

As Lavarenne, who imagines himself in love with the queen, was Bruce Ford, a regular contributor to the recordings of Opera Rara. (They were supporting this concert performance after having recorded the work during the previous week.) Ford’s wide-ranging tenor is another voice that has the flexibility to cope with the demands of bel canto intricacies. Indeed, this opera requires such vocal dexterity from all the main soloists, including the bass, here Alastair Miles, whose firm and even production ’speaks’ cleanly in all the turns and twists. A newcomer to the Opera Rara ’family’ was Fabio Previati in the semi-comic role of Michele, a role that provides the singer with a number of passages of vocal patter, which Previati encompassed with ease and without aspirates.

In the Marsiani role of Isaura, Lavarenne’s wife, Patricia Bardon was the one singer who had not taken part in the recording. She replaced Daniela Barcellona, who was unavailable for the concert. As we have heard before, notably in Chelsea Opera Group’s Semiramide, Bardon’s dark-tinged mezzo encounters no difficulty in ornate passagework, her final rondo successfully concluding the entertainment.

One combination, which I had not come across previously, was a trio for three basses, in which Previati and Miles were joined by the young Latvian Pauls Putnins. The three voices were so dissimilar that there will be no confusion as to who sings what in the recording. It was one of many delights.

The London Philharmonic, having spent hours on the score in the sessions at Henry Wood Hall, had well mastered it, guided by that enthusiastic presenter of the operatically unusual, David Parry. The Geoffrey Mitchell Choir, as highlanders and soldiers, was as proficient as always.

I very much look forward to the Opera Rara recording.

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