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But, for many people, the reason for attending the performance was the opportunity to hear Nelly Miricioiu singing bel canto repertoire in London. There is no denying that Miricioiu's voice is beginning to show slight signs of age; she is perhaps not quite as flexible as she used to be. But she still gives the coloratura the benefit of her mega-watt personality. Unlike many sopranos in this repertoire Miricioiu is not content merely to sing the notes beautifully; she is really able to use Bellini's virtuoso vocal lines to create character. Her performance has a slightly old-fashioned feel to it, but that rather helped to project character in the context of a concert performance. There was no question of Miricioiu just standing and singing; she gestured constantly, creating a vivid character on stage before us.

Though Miricioiu's performance was highly dramatic, it was also very affecting. This was particularly true in the closing pages when Beatrice forgives all and goes to the scaffold welcoming death. Perhaps Bellini's music is a bit too gleeful and a little too lively at this point, but when sung like this, who cares?

The opera's neglect on the stage is puzzling, as besides some lovely music, the plot means that the role of Beatrice is ideal for a mature diva. Whatever the age of the historical Beatrice, in the opera she has been married before and the singer does not have to try and pretend to be a sixteen-year-old ingénue.

The performance was led brilliantly by Brad Cohen. He retained admirable control of the piece, even during the complex set pieces, whilst always letting the music ebb and flow. In Cohen's hands, Bellini's music never seemed straight jacketed. The Chelsea Opera Group orchestra was in fine form throughout the evening and there were some lovely solos from the wind players at various times. The Chelsea Opera Group choir responded, as ever, with great enthusiasm. But the choral performance could have been tidier, the result perhaps of the group's lack of a permanent chorus master.

This was an enjoyable and moving evening, the Chelsea Opera Group providing a fine performance with an extremely strong cast. Let us just hope that this stirring concert performance prompts someone to stage the opera.

Copyright © 22 March 2007 Robert Hugill, London UK





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