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The long-established and well-respected Chelsea Opera Company programmed a concert version of two nineteenth-century Italian works: the seldom performed Le Villi by Giacomo Puccini and a permanent item in the international repertoire, Cavalleria Rusticana by Pietro Mascagni. The combination of these two operas seems to me an excellent opportunity to attract an audience with the later whilst introducing us to a rare Puccini piece which, due to its lack of consistent dramatic action but thanks to its excellent music, works better in an unstaged performance.
In Le villi, the soprano Camilla Roberts sang the role of Anna, the abandoned woman whose premonitory first aria suggests already that her sincere feelings will be the source of undeserved pain. Roberts’ uniform timbre is as luminous in the high notes as it is lush in the low ones. She phrased tastefully and convinced from the beginning to the end. It took me a bit longer to get accustomed to the initially chopping phrasing of the tenor Aldo di Toro, who sang ‘Roberto’. Eventually, though, his singing gained intensity and his timbre sounded both robust and vulnerable. His long aria “Torna ai felici dì” was perhaps the best moment of the whole concert. Simon Torpe—as Guglielmo Wulm in Le villi and Alfio in Cavalleria—was not at the same level; his nasal and slightly throaty tone notwithstanding, what his singing really lacked was musicality.
As for Cavalleria, the first striking element was the tenor Luis Rodríguez’s voice from off stage. It was obvious from that moment that his Turiddu would be passionate if not very subtle. His voice possesses a beautiful colour, though he should, perhaps, try to control himself a bit, since symptoms of fatigue were audible at the end of the opera. He is, nonetheless, a very promising spinto. The soprano Alwyn Mellor’s Santuzza was a bit muffled. Her voice was not sufficiently projected and every now and then seemed to be swallowed when the orchestra played particularly forte. Perhaps the most impressive singer on the stage was the well-known contralto Elisabeth Sikora—who sang, among other things, ‘Giovanna’ in David McVicar’s Rigoletto at The Royal Opera House in 2002. Her deep, beautiful voice is supported by her intelligent singing; she is also a great actress. Claire Bradshaw did well as ‘Lola’.
The Chelsea Opera Company gathered for this performance an amateur orchestra and chorus. The results were irregular in the case of the latter, but striking in the case of the former: this orchestra does an excellent job due not only to its musicians’ abilities, but also to their palpable enthusiasm. The outstanding result had to do with the perfect job done by Andrew Greenwood, who, aware of these performers’ virtues and limitations, decided to aim for intensity rather than subtlety. To his credit, the final result managed to achieve both. While no one in the audience was convinced that Le villi deserved a place in the permanent repertoire, it was still an exciting, and occasionally moving evening.