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<<<  <<  -- 4 --  Robert Hugill    A SPECIAL MAGIC


The whole of the opera is orchestrated magically, but in the scenes involving La Fee, Massenet seems to have been especially concerned to create a special magic. Shadowed both by the female chorus and an ensemble of six solo women, Howarth responded beautifully both to Massenet's magic and the high tessitura of the role. La Fee is a curious role, after all: though she brings the lovers together, she does not do so immediately; she is not the lovely old lady of some versions of the story. Howarth caught this coolness perfectly, both in voice and pleasantly detached demeanour. She conveyed a neat mischievous streak and looked stunning in an off the shoulder lime green dress.

The performance was credited with a producer, Andre Heller-Lopes, and care seems to have been taken with the presentation, with the dress of the singers, with entrances and exits and, most importantly, getting the singers to emote and react to each other. Though all, apart from Grodnikaite, sang from scores, this was a most dramatic and involving concert performance.

Dominic Wheeler drew some lovely playing from the Chelsea Opera Group orchestra; both he and they seemed to relish the dazzling sound-world which Massenet creates. Massenet wrote for a surprisingly large orchestra (double woodwind plus piccolo and cor anglais, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones and tuba, plus percussion and celesta), but the opera is rarely bombastic; instead Massenet creates a lovely tissue of sound. This is an opera which needs performing with care and with love; Chelsea Opera Group gave it both and the results paid immense dividends. The most recent London staging of the opera was a student production, and the UK's most recent professional staging was, I think, one at Welsh National Opera in the mid 1990s. So we must be profoundly grateful to Chelsea Opera Group for refreshing the areas which other groups miss, and for doing so in such a profoundly satisfying manner.

Copyright © 3 June 2008 Robert Hugill, London UK






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