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Valdeburgo, La Straniera's brother, is a problem character as he behaves as if he is all bluff common sense whilst going through the most idiotic plot complications. Mark Stone took the character at his own word and gave us a bluff, sensible supportive chap. This might not have worked, but Stone has a beautiful high baritone voice which he uses with care and with style. His phrasing was a joy to listen to. Whilst his experience is far wider than just early 19th century opera, I do hope we get to hear him in more such pieces before his voice darkens and gets heavier. In fact, he is appearing as Enrico in the forthcoming new ENO Lucia di Lammermoor.

Stone, Ciofi and Schmunck bore the brunt of the plot and the work's substantial group of duets and ensembles. All three worked very well together and this was far more than a stand and deliver concert performance. All the characters walked on and off for their entrances and exits and all took care to sing to the other characters. Stone and Ciofi were notable for going far beyond this and gave us real staged drama, making the plot both immediate and believable. Stone looked every inch the bluff nobleman and Ciofi looked neurotic from the moment we saw her.

Mezzo soprano Enkelejda Shkosa played Arturo's fiancée, Isoletta. Shkosa has a rather dark, vibrato-laden voice which is not the obvious choice for a young fiancée. She sang her opening scene well without making too much impact. But in her second (and final) scene she appears with just the female chorus and here, moving from lamenting Arturo's absence to joy at his return to her, she was in fine form, singing Bellini's long lines with care.

The smaller roles were all strongly cast. Roland Wood as Isoletta's father had little to do, but that little he did well. Graeme Broadbent as Il Priore degli Spedalieri acted as both the judge in the trial scene and as the Deus ex Machina who announces that La Straniera is now Queen. Broadbent has an impressive bass-baritone voice which he used to great effect. Aled Hall was Osburgo, the spokesman of the villagers: a nasty, scheming character.

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Copyright © 10 November 2007 Robert Hugill, London UK


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