classical music

Robert Maycock
Friday 24 March 1995 00:02
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There can't be an opera-lover in London without treasured memories of University College Opera. Prosaic title it may be, but the annual stagings are etched into the calendar as unmissable for all who care about keeping the broader repertoire alive. And they do it with the flair generated from the combination of student enthusiasm in the chorus and orchestra with professional energy from soloists, conductor and production team.

They have an eye for revivals of operas that used to be famous but have slipped out of currency. All followers have their favourite discoveries. In the Eighties UC Opera was strong on France - Chabrier's Gwendoline, Massenet's Herodiade and brave about Germany (Spohr and Bruch). But it has run since 1951 and rarely produced a flop. This time it's another resonant name, La Wally by Alfredo Catalani. Yes, really: there were no derisory connotations when it had its premiere in Milan in 1892, and such was its renown then that the conductor Arturo Toscanini named his daughter Wally. For this is the story of a nature-loving woman and her conflicts with the world of convention, drawn from a novel of late-romantic German origins. Men fight over her, and she and her lover die in an avalanche.

Seen in its day as one of the foundation stones of the verismo tradition, it won the praise of Verdi and soon travelled abroad. But it never had a London performance in its day. For this version Julia Hollander is the director, and UC Opera's musical chief David Drommond conducts.

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