A number of excellent singers, including Majella Cullagh, Sally Silver, Nelly Miricioiu and Liora Grodnikaite, will appear in this year's performances of Italian bel canto and Romantic French rarities by the Chelsea Opera Group.
The season opens this coming Saturday with Donizetti's Maria Stuarda, a work which was lost for many years but has enjoyed something of a revival in recent decades with recordings featuring Agnes Baltsa, Edita Gruberova, Joan Sutherland and Beverly Sills. It still isn't a repertory piece in this country, despite a famous ENO production with Charles Mackerras, Rosalind Plowright and Janet Baker over twenty years ago, so although it's not as obscure as some works they perform, the COG is still doing the repertoire a great service.
For this unmissable performance, Irish soprano Majella Cullagh will take the title role, following on from previous appearances with Opera Rara and the Buxton Festival in Donizetti operas. Sally Silver plays Elizabeth, having starred in Scottish Opera's Spring 2007 tour of Lucia di Lammermoor of which MusicalCriticism.com reported: 'Donizetti musically confirms Lucia's mental breakdown in the third act through staggering intervallic leaps, brilliant runs and drawn-out high trills. But this is no challenge for Sally Silver (Lucia), who scaled these difficult passages with unnerving ease. Silver skilfully projected Lucia's psychological instability, whilst maintaining an elegant vocal line even through the most difficult musical and physical passages.'
A strong cast is completed by tenor Todd Wilander as Leicester, Roderick Earle as Talbot, Philippe Fourcade as Cecil and Anne-Marie Gibbons as Anna. The conductor is Tecwyn Evans, who impressed in last week's Opera North performance of Falstaff (reviewed here). Maria Stuarda starts at 7pm at Cadogan Hall. What better way to experience this opera than in the city where it is set?
The next opera in COG's season will be Verdi's Macbeth in the original 1847 version. Although Glyndebourne on Tour is currently performing a hybrid of the original and revised versions, this concert performance is the best way to hear the original version in its entirety. Although some of the most powerful moments are missing, there is a consistency and darkness about the 1847 version which some people even prefer; a good way to prepare for the performance would be to listen to Opera Rara's release of a 1970s BBC radio broadcast of the opera with Peter Glossop, Rita Hunter and Sir John Tomlinson.
Chelsea Opera Group's performance takes place on 29 March 2008 and will feature Nelly Miricioiu as Lady Macbeth, continuing a long and fruitful relationship with COG, such as in the recent Beatrice di Tenda. The conductor will be Brad Cohen, the safe pair of hands behind Opera Holland Park's 2007 production of Nabucco. Tickets are already on sale for this performance, which sees the Group return to the Queen Elizabeth Hall for the first time since the renovation of the Royal Festival Hall. The QEH's capacity is small, so readers are encouraged not to delay in booking.
Finally, next June sees Chelsea Opera Group perform Massenet's charming Cendrillon, his version of Cinderella. A cruelly neglected work, it here receives a welcome revival with Liora Grodnikaite, formerly a Jette Parker Principal Artist at the Royal Opera House, in the title role. Dominic Wheeler will conduct.
As well as these three opera performances, the COG joins forces annually with the Salisbury Music Society, and will this year perform Bach's Christmas Oratorio on 8 December 2007, followed by Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius on 17 May 2008.
In all, these are important dates for London-based opera lovers.
For more information, visit Chelsea Opera Group's website here.