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Verdi - Attila

The Cadogan Hall, London 11 March 2006

 

Chelsea Opera Group

Conductor Andrew Greenwood

 

Attila Clive Bayley

Uldino Paul O'Neill

Ezio Jonathan Summers

Odabella Nelly Miricioiu

Foresto Wynne Evans

Leone Mark Beesley

 

Attila is normally regarded as the last of Verdi's early, learning-curve operas. He was far from well when he wrote it, mentally and physically exhausted by over work, and further disadvantaged by an unsatisfactory librettist. Nonetheless, the work lies right on the cusp; if the music and drama don't quite come together to maximum effect, the ingredients are certainly all recognisably present.

 

Seemingly a brave choice - but Chelsea Opera Group is used to taking such risks - in many ways it's a piece well suited to concert presentation. Locations range between a ravaged battlefield and the empty mudflats which will one day emerge as the city of Ve nice , so not much by way of sets is called for or missed.

 

Casting Nelly Miricioiu as the heroine was another brave choice. Over the years she has appeared regularly with COG and become a company favourite, but Verdi's score for Odabella is unrelenting, starting with a huge cavatina and going on from there. Even on the concert platform Miricioiu is a larger-than-life performer who projects every inch of the drama, but nothing could disguise her serious vocal problems. Just occasionally, when she had a legato line in the middle of the voice, we heard the magic that once made her an incomparable dramatic soprano, and was to win through with a willing audience.

 

Attila is at both the villain of the piece and the only principal to behave honourably. Clive Bayley started cautiously, but very soon became immersed in his character - a performance that really took off. The pivotal point of the drama and opera is the moment when Attila's progress towards Rome is blocked not by the opposing armies and generals, but by the sole presence of Leon e. In a battle of the basses with Mark Beesley the vocal sparks fairly flew across the platform.

 

Jonathan Summers should have been perfect as the duplicitous Ezio, but his obvious struggle against a head cold just took the edge off his performance Foresto is a tough call for any tenor, and I was impressed by Wynne Evans characterisation he studies with Dennis O'Neill who had a notable success in this role at Covent Garden in the 90's and another of his pupils, the young Australian tenor Paul O'Neill made a promising debut as Uldino.

 

COG have the luxury of numbers in their amateur chorus and orchestra, giving the conductor, Andrew Greenwood a real bonanza. (His formative years as Chorus Master for WNO in the years of Richard Armstrong's musical directorship surely bearing fruit.) Early Verdi shown off to good effect.

 

Serena Fenwick

 

© Peter Grahame Woolf