Monday 26 February 2018

Well worth crossing the Red Sea for: Rossini's Mosè in Egitto from Chelsea Opera Group

Rossini: Mosè in Egitto - Catherine Carby - Chelsea Opera Group (Photo Robert Workman)
Rossini: Mosè in Egitto - Catherine Carby - Chelsea Opera Group
(Photo Robert Workman)
Rossini Mosè in Egitto; James Platt, Catherine Carby, Nico Darmanin, Anush Hovhannisyan, Ji Hun Kim, Daniel Grice, cond: Robin Newton; Chelsea Opera Group at Cadogan Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Feb 24 2018 Star rating: 4.5
Rossini's opera seria with a wonderfully balanced cast and some vivid drama

Rossini's serious operas still do not crop up that often, and on Saturday 24 February 2018, Chelsea Opera Group, conductor Robin Newton, presented Rossini's Mosè in Egitto at the Cadogan Hall. Mose in Egitto must rank as one of the more popular of Rossini's opera serias, staged by Covent Garden in 1994, and by Welsh National Opera in 2014, but it is hardly a regular occurrence. Part of the problem is the taxing nature of the solo parts, the opera was written for the opera company in Naples with its hand picked team of soloists. Very impressively, Chelsea Opera Group fielded a strong cast whose expertise and balance nature would be the envy of most opera companies.

James Platt sang the title role, with Catherine Carby as Elcia (the Isabella Colbran role) and Nico Darmanin as Osiride (the Andrea Nozzari role), plus Ji Hyun Kim (Aronne), Anush Hovhannisyan (Amaltea), Daniel Grice (Faraone), Christopher Turner (Mambre) and Eirlys Myfanwy Davies (Amenofi).

Rossini: Mosè in Egitto - Daniel Grice, Nico Darmanin - Chelsea Opera Group (Photo Robert Workman)
Rossini: Mosè in Egitto - Daniel Grice, Nico Darmanin
Chelsea Opera Group (Photo Robert Workman)
It is a slightly strange piece, a staged oratorio suitable for lent rather than a traditional opera seria, though to the story of Moses and the children of Israel in Egypt is added a rather contrived story of the love for a Hebrew girl, Elcia (Catherine Carby) by the eldest son of the Pharaoh, Osiride (Nico Darmanin). The piece starts, in media res, with the Egyptians plunged into darkness and the romantic plot is concluded by the end of Act Two (with the death of Osiride from one of God's thunderbolts), so that the final act is basically a scenic spectacular, the crossing of the Red Sea.

But its attractions are obvious. A clear and direct story, with an unusually strong part of the chorus (robustly and enthusiastically sung by the Chelsea Opera Group chorus), and plenty of orchestral interest as Rossini brings a whole range of tonal colours to bear on the depiction of the plagues, all crowned with the orchestral showpiece of the Red Sea crossing. And it was clear that the orchestra was in its element, and we had some lovely sonorous moments and vivid detail.

The original cast for the opera also happened not to include the high tenor Giovanni David, for whom Rossini wrote many roles (including Rodrigo in Otello). Which means that Mosè in Egitto lacks one of the stratospheric tenor parts which make Rossini's Neapolitan operas so tricky to cast, though of course the role of Osiride, written for Andrea Nozzari, is not without its complications!

The opera does sag somewhat in the second act, and there seemed to be a great deal more recitative than is often the case in a Rossini opera. Chelsea Opera Group usually provides the invaluable resource of performing works complete, but you could understand an opera company trimming it somewhat.

Rossini: Mose in Egitto - James Platt, Ji Hyun Kim - Chelsea Opera Group (Photo Robert Workman)
Rossini: Mosè in Egitto - James Platt, Ji Hyun Kim -
Chelsea Opera Group (Photo Robert Workman)
In the title role, James Platt showed that recitative can work. For much of the role is recitative with only a single aria and the famous prayer at the end. Platt made the recitative count, coming over as wonderfully trenchant, this wasn't a prophet to get on the wrong side of.

As Elicia, the Hebrew woman in love with the Egyptian prince, Catherine Carby had only duets and the Act Two finale, but she certainly made the most of them. For the Act Two finale, Rossini wrote the sort of piece that usually ends the whole opera, a large scale aria for Carby with plenty of dramatic interruptions (including the death of the leading tenor). Having heard Catherine Carby two days previously singing Rossini with English Touring Opera [see my review], it is heartening to report that she was in equally good voice. The Act Two finale was intensely moving as well as having plenty of fireworks.

In Act One, we got a love duet of sorts for Elcia (Carby) and Osiride (Nico Darmanin) and the two provided virtuosity and strong emotions. The Act One finale included a charming duet for Carby and Eirlys Myfanwy Davies in the small role of Amenofi. In Act Two, Osiride having virtually kidnapped Elcia, the two have another intense and awkward duet, which then developed into a powerful quartet as they are discovered by Amaltea (Anush Hovhannisyan) and Aronne ( Ji Hyun Kim). This quartet seemed to take us almost into comic opera territory with its ensemble of confusion.

Nico Darmanin made a dramatic Osiride, bringing plenty of personality to this rather unlikeable role so that Darmanin highly characterful in the recitatives and gave us some virtuoso solo moments. In addition to the duets with Carby, he also had a powerful one with Daniel Grice's Faraone as Osiride constantly failed to tell his father that he was in love and could not marry his father's choice. Darmanin was fearless in his approaching the role's high tessitura and his singing had a wonderful relish to it.

Daniel Grice made a strong Faraone, a remarkable feat given that the character is always changing his mind, repeatedly allowing the Israelites to leave and then countermanding the order, and he brought a nice vividness to his Act One aria defying Mosè. As his wife Anush Hovhannisyan impressed with her command of the coloratura and highly expressive timbre, and you rather wished that the role was bigger. Hovhannisyan was beautifully expressive in her one aria, so it was a shame that the piece is not more dramatically essential.

The smaller roles were all strongly cast, and whilst some parts had a relatively small number of notes, that does not mean that they lack difficulty and it was satisfying to find such a good balance. Aronne is very much Mosè's side-kick but Ji Hyun Kim sang with confidence and personality. Christopher Turner similarly made the most of his scene as Mambre, whilst Eirlys Myfanwy Davies as Amenofi had her moment in the spotlight in her lovely duet with Catherine Carby.

Conductor Robin Newton held everything together with wonderful aplomb, leaving plenty of space for the singers whilst keeping everything moving, and ensuring the large scale ensembles motored along without accident. More than that, he also had a definite flair for Rossini's music so that there was plenty to enjoy.

Rossini: Mosè in Egitto - Chelsea Opera Group
This was one of those evenings when everything seemed to be in balance, cast, orchestra and chorus, so that we could appreciate many details of the opera whilst enjoying the larger picture too. This was a performance which would have done credit to many full time opera companies, and we must hope that Chelsea Opera Group give us more serious Rossini. As it is we have Massenet's Thais (23 June 2018), Bellini's Norma (27 October 2018) and Boito's Mefistofele (24 March 2019) to look forward to.

Elsewhere on this blog:
  • Music, myth and time: Karen Cargill and the Scottish Ensemble at Kings Place (4.5*) - concert review
  • A varied career: our interview with violinist Thomas Gould finds him in a thoughtful mood - interview
  • Má vlast: Jiri Belohlavek's last recording with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra - CD review (****)
  • Notable recital debut disc from French Horn player Ben Golscheider - Cd review (****)
  • 18 years after its premiere, Jake Heggie's Dead Man Walking receives its first UK performance - Opera review (3.5 *)
  • Gerstein plays Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue and Piano Concerto in F - CD review (****)
  • Satyagraha: Philip Glass's opera at ENO - Opera review (****)
  • Musical Arcadia: Handel at Vauxhall on Signum Classics - CD review (****)
  • Motherhood and memory: Helen Grime's Bright Travellers at the Wigmore Hall - Concert review (****)
  • Bernstein, Gubaidulina & more: violinist Vadim Gluzman on the importance of contemporary repertoire  - Interview
  • Music in a cold climate: the sounds of Hansa Europe - CD review (***)
  • Spices! Perfumes! Toxins! Approachably melodic percussion concerto - CD review - CD review (***)
  • A Triptych: Irrational Theatre at the King's Head - Opera review (***)
  • Topsy-turvy fun: Cal McCrystal directs G&S's Iolanthe - Opera review (*****)
  • Home

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