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Majella Cullagh sang Maria at Grange Park last year and will be singing the role in Dallas. By using two strong sopranos, Chelsea Opera Group gave us ideally balanced casting between the queens, which meant their vituperative exchange was balanced musically and dramatically.

Maria is a slightly problematic part. It is labelled a soprano role but was sung by the mezzo-soprano Maria Malibran. Except that Malibran also counted Norma in her repertoire. So high mezzos occasionally essay the role, notably Janet Baker and Ann Murray. But Cullagh amply demonstrated that the role works best when sung by a soprano. Perhaps she has a slight coolness of tone, but in a role like Maria this works well. And when it came to her emotional confession in the penultimate scene and her final prayer, Cullagh was profoundly moving.

As Leicester, Californian Tod Wilander had a good grasp of Donizettian style; he has a recently sung the title role in Roberto Devereux in Buxton. Wilander has a useful lyric tenor voice with an enviable freedom at the top of the stave. His is not a particularly Italianate voice. I would imagine he is well suited to Mozart as well. But he sang Leicester with passion and commitment and a neat line in fioriture. His was a dramatic performance -- he certainly did not just stand and sing. Though by the end of the evening his voice contained the suspicion of tiredness, the result perhaps of singing with an orchestra open on stage rather than confined in a pit.

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Copyright © 1 December 2007 Robert Hugill, London UK


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