Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
For his debut at the Paris Opera in 1847, Verdi reworked one of his earlier operas, I Lombardi. Naturally enough, it was the French who now went on a crusade to Jerusalem (its new title). A typically brave production by Opera North had started to make a case for the later opera, but for many years it suffered from prejudice.
The Chelsea Opera Group's concert performance gave us a rare, welcome opportunity to judge the revision on its own merits. It benefited from the wholehearted conducting of Andrew Greenwood: he revelled unashamedly in the score's animal vigour, but also shaped its distinctively oneiric ambience with generous rubato, in sympathy with the singers. The chorus and orchestra contributed a fervent account of the music, a few rough edges testimony to the "one-off" nature of the occasion. Occasionally, concert performances can be more, rather than less, operatic than staged events. With the orchestra behind them, the singers have nowhere to hide. Their smallest movements register seismically.
The performance began tensely, perhaps partly because Gaston, the principal tenor role, had to be recast at short notice. Stuart Kale sang it with exemplary finesse and a sure sense of French style, like a young Alfredo Kraus. His engaging manner contributed to a surprisingly touching portrait of the victim-hero.
As Helene, Susan Stacey gained in confidence as the evening wore on. By Act II, she was thrillingly capable of the role's dramatic and lyrical aspects. The most interesting character is the "baddy", Roger, but it emerged only pallidly. Mark Richardson had audible problems with both extremes of its vocal range, but he also kept his eyes riveted to the score and never engaged with the lust, remorse, anger and Satanism that Verdi prescribed.
Other parts were surely cast: Alan Fairs as the Papal Legate, Denise Mulholland as Isaure, Henry Newman as a valiant Comte de Toulouse, Jeffrey Stewart as Raymond, Simon Bainsbridge as an Officer and Michael Drewis, a baritone whom we shall be hearing more of, in three small roles. Jerusalem lived up to Andrew Greenwood's introductory remark, that in rehearsal, it had proved "something or a revelation".
The Chelsea Opera Group will perform Carlos Gomes's `Il Guarany' on 28 Feb 1998 at the QEHReuse content