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Giacomo Meyerbeer Margherita d'Anjou

MARGHERITA - Annick Massis
ISAURA - Daniela Barcellona
CARLO BELMONTE - Alastair Miles
RICCARDO - Pauls Putninš
ORNER - Roland Wood

Geoffrey Mitchell Choir & London Philharmonic Orchestra/David Parry

Opera Rara ORC 25 [172 mins]

This rare opera was enjoyed by an audience that packed the Royal Festival Hall shortly after the completion of this recording, made at the Henry Wood Hall nearby, and I append below my review for The Opera Critic of the concert performance. Opera Rara's recording will be an indispensible souvenir for everyone who was there and a delight for those who weren't. There was only one cast change for the concert, the fine coloratura mezzo Daniela Barcellona recorded as Isaura, equally satisfying as Patricia Bardon heard live. Bruce Ford is heroic as the Duke of Lavarenne and Annick Massis a constant delight as Margherita.

Here I will concentrate on Opera Rara's model presentation. In a learned 30 page essay Mark Everist which tells all you could possibly want to know about Meyerbeer and his Italian operas. Their several recordings of those are underpinned by the enthusiasm of Patric Schmid and Peter Moores of his eponymous Foundation. Their enthusiasm and generosity is reflected in the 200 page book for Margherita d'Anjou, which is a joy to handle, and includes, of course, the complete libretto (a few scenes omitted given in brown type) with English translation. There are historical illustrations and a set of rehearsal and recording session photos (Russell Duncan) which share with us the feeling of what was evidently a happy project for all involved.

Margherita d'Anjou
Concert performance

Royal Festival Hall, London 2 November 2002
(from The Opera Critic)

Annick Massis Margherita
Bruce Ford Il Duca di Lavaranne
Patricia Bardon Isaura
Alastair Miles Carlo
Fabio Previati Michele
London Philharmonic Orchestra
David Parry conductor
with Geoffrey Mitchell Choir

Opera Rara has just completed recording this early Meyerbeer Italian opera, premiered in 1820, and unaccountably neglected for nearly two hundred years.

In a pre-concert discussion with Nick Kimberley and Nicholas Payne (who had recently resigned as ENO's director) Patric Schmid, Artistic Director of Opera Rara, discussed his projects and particularly how you cannot always be sure just from seeing the score how a neglected piece from this period will actually sound. Schmid and his colleagues had researched Meyerbeer's Italian operas ('the big Rossini', he was called!) and produced a performing edition of this historical 'melodrama', a remarkable work, which had made a huge impact at its original premiere. The vocal parts are so demanding that you could not afford to mount a fully staged performance without a team of singers burning to do it, and likely to be available for revivals, so there is great value in concert performances of doubtful runners.

Margherita d'Anjou might be viable for UK staging on account of its (not quite authentic) story about the War of the Roses; it is a 'Semi-serious Opera in Two Acts' and one must certainly not take it all too seriously. Annick Massis was convincingly regal addressing her troops and continued to convey all the moods required as the drama developed, earning applause at each opportunity. Mezzo Patricia Bardon was equally impressive as Isaura, who eventually regained the love of her ducal husband, torn in his affections between the two ladies. At the end, with her happiness restored, she soared into surprisingly high altitudes, displaying overall a remarkable vocal range. Tenor Bruce Ford was untiring and impressive in his formidable role as the Duke of Lavarenne. Fabio Previati Michele was incisive and amusing as a French surgeon, one of three basses who can be hear in a show-stopping number, Pensa e guarda, amico, which can be downloaded to sample this work at its best.

It was indeed an all-star cast which David Parry directed with precision and confidence, and none of the singers had any problems projecting, without an orchestra pit, and over the enthusiastic LPO, every section seizing its chance to shine, including leader Pieter Schoeman in his obligatti for Annick Massis in the title role.

This early piece, not too beholden to Rossini, made for an altogether inspiriting evening. Meyerbeer generally has had a bad press in UK, and one was pleasantly surprised at the inventive orchestration and by the memorable tunes, and the plot was no worse than many another. Effectiveness was an imperative for Meyerbeer, and he deployed this in all departments, complete with off-stage band.

The programme supplied the complete libretto in English and Italian, and the lights were left on so that one could follow it (they are often turned down for 'atmosphere', making that impossible!). Cut portions of recitative were printed with a grey background, and the performance still required three hours including one interval; excessive length to some tastes is one of the problems with Meyerbeer's operas.

Opera Rara has an ongoing project with the LPO, and other complete recordings of Meyerbeer, Il crociato in Egitto and Dinorah, are already available. There is also a single Opera Rara CD of Meyerbeer in Italy, conducted by David Parry and featuring Bruce Ford and Alistair Miles from the RFH cast of Margherita d'Anjou, of which a complete recording is to be released next September, with nearly the same cast (Daniella Barcellona instead of Patricia Bardon), and supported by the Peter Moores Foundation, to which opera lovers are so indebted.

© Peter Grahame Woolf 2002.


© Peter Grahame Woolf