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ROH vs COG


Mario Sofroniou and Jorge Navarro Colorado, about to sing under Gianluca Marcianò with the Chelsea Opera Group at the Queen Elizabeth Hall this evening.


It’s quite clear that most well-known operas’ stories have a taste for morality; impossible and beyond-life flawless love; Manichaean characters and war which I cannot handle well. All that feels so old, that I hardly connect with those stories. I wonder who could today… But in the occasion of a new (for me) romantic opera -Alzira by Verdi and Cammarano, I enjoyed it so much that I started to wonder… Did I enjoy this one more than the last Royal Opera House production I've been to? And the question makes complete sense because Alzira was performed by an amateur company, the Chelsea Opera Group -which has been active for over 60 years now… So I say: Let the fight begin!!


OPERA CONCEPT

Both Alzira and La donna del lago are romantic operas, and they share this taste I mentioned for old stories, moral happy endings, and praise to the king/governor… and none of them makes me daydream really, so this is a DRAW.


MUSIC

I’m afraid that I wouldn’t be able to choose here either. Verdi and Rossini are both masters, both taking the tradition they received to somewhere new… I must admit that I’m not a big fan of either, and these are minor works for both. La donna had fabulous arias, whereas Alzira’s finales lift the spirits… again a DRAW here.


STORY

OK, so La donna del lago loves one man she can’t be with, and despises the king and the general her father wants to marry her to, only being able to marry her lover out of the king’s pity for her (!); Alzira agrees to marry the man who wanted to kill his beloved Zamoro, just to save him; and Zamoro pays the forgiving governor back by... killing him -and while he dies, he wishes them forever love and forgives again; hell’s fear is powerful indeed! I connect much more with the latter. Point for COG.


PRODUCTION

Alzira was presented in concert, with the choir wearing green on black, one singer in a yellow vest and red shoes, and the rest in dinner jacket or night dress. Only two of the singers acted a little their roles, but all that was just perfect! Balanced and appropriate. La donna del lago had a very expensive production where supposedly Rossini and Walter Scott where looking at museum pieces to understand history.... and then there were the stairs creating a space. Oh yes, and the barbarian vision of the Scottish with unnecessary gender violence and bad taste scenes. Here, clearly, less is more. Point for COG.


SINGERS

OK, there’s no discussion here. Although the singers in Alzira sung beautifully, and I enjoyed very much their performance -special mention to Holland, who learnt his leading role in one week, despite that, La donna was sung by Joyce di Donato; the King by Juan Diego Flórez; Malcom by Daniella Barcellona (three of the best belcanto singers these days); and Rodrigo by last-minute Michael Spyres, who surprisingly did a great job too… This is a double point for ROH.


CONDUCTOR

I can’t disagree more the reviews praising Mariotti’s conducting in La donna. His tempi were absurdly slow. His suffocation of Daniella Barcellona in Mura felice, a crime. His indifference for the score he was performing, absolute. I can only say that he was better in the second half, but I didn’t feel like he played any music! I enjoyed much better Gianluca Marcianò's efforts to get the best out of his orchestra. He was uneven, but with many great moments -and his jumping and dancing to the music was really amusing. He gets the point for COG!


ORCHESTRA

Would it be possible that a stable orchestra didn’t have a better sound than a non professional one? Obviously not. The ROH orchestra musicians are amazing, their solos a pleasure. They tried to make music, despite the conducting they were under. I must emphasize though that, despite the lower level of the COG orchestra, it possibly displayed the same, if not a bigger enthusiasm. Maybe their results aren’t as good, but they try hard, they do their best, and we thank them a lot for it! Point for the ROH.


CHORUS

This was the feeblest point for COG. The choir is an old one, and not too numerous. The male forces were hardly audible in the war fragments, with the women holding their parts more decently. I wouldn’t say however, that the ROH chorus blew up my mind either. I guess I don’t share the director’s philosophy of dividing the voices that much -at many points, the choir was just ridiculously small. It’s a very professional choir though, and they sung their parts just great, so it’s a point for ROH.


COMFORT

Although I was invited to both performances, I saw the 3-hour-long Donna standing, and couldn’t see the overtitles very well; my seat at the Queen Elizabeth Hall was quite close to the scene, and the visibility and acoustic was perfect. Point for COG.


GENERAL IMPRESSION

So far, this is a draw. I enjoyed both operas, though maybe the quid for the general impression is the EXPECTATION. I went to the ROH expecting a great show, with the great singers announced, and all the money they spent... and I just enjoyed it. I expected a low level in COG’s performance, and I was gladly surprised with their performance. So the bottom line is: it’s not that one was better than the other, it’s us who may set the standards so high that we end up enjoying less than expected. So I invite us all to drop all the standards and just enjoy whatever we get!


Yeah, alright, but can it be with a more contemporary feeling next time? I hope someone programs Lulu in London soon!

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