Il Trovatore Act 1, scene 2
Don Carlos Act 4, scene 1
Aida Prelude to Act 1; Act 2
Veronica Villarroel (soprano)
Dolora Zajick (mezzo-soprano)
Leah-Marian Jones (mezzo-soprano)
David Rendall (tenor)
Vassily Gerello (baritone)
Alexander Anisimov (bass)
Alastair Miles (bass)
Halle Choir, Leeds Festival Chorus, London Symphony Chorus, Halle Orchestra conducted by Mark Elder
Reviewed by: Paul Hutchinson
Reviewed: 22 July, 2001
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London
This BBC Proms tribute to Verdi, in the centenary year of his death, played to a packed house. This was an imaginative programme of excerpts from this most popular of Italian opera composers. It proved a thoroughly enjoyable evening.
Seven soloists, three choirs and the Halle Orchestra were under the eminently reliable baton of that most distinguished Verdian, Mark Elder, who conducted the entire concert from memory.
The performance of the Overture to Nabucco proved Elder’s perception of Verdi’s flowering maturity; poetry and grace at the forefront there was some lovely phrasing from the strings. If Verdian fire seemed restrained, lyricism lent nobility.
Act 1, scene 2 of Il Trovatore introduced Veronica Villarroel’s Leonora, with her firm, even middle register and a clear top; she negotiated ’Tacea la notte’ with ease, even if Verdi’s line seemed a little retarded at this slower speed. Vassily Gerello’s Count was rich-toned – much in love with the heroine; his hatred for Manrico was palpable in equal measure. Manrico was sung with heroic ardour by David Rendall, the last-minute replacement for Carlo Ventre. Fresh from his triumphant Glyndebourne Otello the night before, Rendall sang with some restraint, no doubt anticipating the rest of the evening before him.
Verdian grandeur came next with the wonderful first scene of Act Four of Don Carlos. Alastair Miles’s Philip had nobility and melancholy; pathos and dignity were the hallmarks of his lament over the loss of Elisabetta, his young wife. While in his confrontation with the Grand Inquisitor, superbly and sonorously sung, and terrifyingly delineated, by the outstanding Alexander Anisimov, he presented a ruler courageously resisting the fearful odds of Church and State.
Dolora Zajick’s thrilling mezzo lent great dramatic edge to her Eboli. Her conflict with the Queen over her adultery with Philip had one on the edge of one’s seat. ’O Don fatale’ brought the house down – justifiably.
The second half belonged to Aida. The Prelude to Act One found Elder drawing lovely playing and phrasing from the Halle’s strings, especially in the opening section. The elucidation of the strings’ part-writing, Verdi use of divisi, left one in no doubt that Mark Elder is a real Verdi conductor.
Act 2 in its entirety brought Zajick’s Amneris and her wily insinuations about Aida’s true feelings towards Radames, with a fine outburst on “Radames – Vive!” (Radames lives). Again, Villarroel’s slackness of speed created hiatus, but this time to dramatic effect.
Three choirs, even in a spectacular opera like Aida, might seem like overkill. In the event, that seems like carping, with those voices from North and South in full flood – the effect in the ’Triumphal Scene’ was stunning. All the soloists seized their moments well and ensemble-singing was excellent.
An excellent and memorable evening.