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Fire and Flexibility

Verdi's 'Attila', reviewed by ROBERT HUGILL


Verdi's Attila dates from 1846, his so-called 'galley years' when he produced a remarkable number of operas: Ernani (Venice, 1844), I due Foscari (Rome, 1844), Giovanna d'Arco (Milan 1845), Alzira (Naples, 1845). Attila was premièred at La Fenice in Venice in March 1846; in the 1850s it was one of Verdi's most popular operas. But it fell from favour and was only revived in the 20th century when interest rekindled in Verdi's early works. It belongs to a group of works whose primary colour is their exotic background setting (Macbeth -- medieval Scotland, Nabucco -- early Biblical times, Alzira -- Peru); Attila's barbaric background colours the whole opera, even affecting the opera's heroine, Odabella. She is one of the most remarkably self-assured and martial of Verdi's heroines.

It is difficult to imagine soprano Nelly Miricioiu dressed as an amazon or performing feats of martial valour, but her voice has the ideal combination of fire and flexibility for Verdi's heroine. Nelly Miricioiu's concerts with the Chelsea Opera Group have become something of an annual institution. They enable Nelly's many fans to hear her in London in the early 19th century repertoire for which she is justly famous, but also mean that Chelsea Opera Group can explore this repertoire with a strong soprano in the cast.

Miricioiu was on fine form at the concert on Saturday 11 March 2006 at the Cadogan Hall, Chelsea, London UK. The Hall is perhaps slightly small for Verdi's opera, but it enabled us to get rather closer to the singers than usual. Miricioiu's Odabella was suitably passionate and she sang with her customary suppleness of line. There were occasional moments when her voice sounded less than ideal, but there are still few singers who can match Miricioiu in this repertoire.

Chelsea Opera Group casting can sometimes have an air of desperation borne of the difficulties in finding suitable replacements for ailing cast members in repertoire which is rare and unusual; an unfortunate side effect of the group's admirable policy of performing under-performed works. But Saturday's cast had a wonderful feeling of coherence and strength, in fact it was a cast for Attila which would have been the envy of most opera houses.

The title role was sung by Clive Bayley, a welcome opportunity to hear a singer who seems to be increasingly based in Munich rather than London. Ezio, the Roman general, was sung by Jonathan Summers and Foresto by Wynne Evans, a young Welsh tenor currently based at Welsh National Opera.

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Copyright © 15 March 2006 Robert Hugill, London UK


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