The Royal Opera House Muscat presented the latest in the free popular preview series, ‘Lunch Music Menu’, at Opera Galleria last weekend.
This month’s fayre focused on Donizetti’s obsession with the dark days of England’s Tudors – the Queens specifically, who often ended up without their heads. The hour-long recital was performed by four understudies for the forthcoming production of ‘Anna Bolena’ at the main House, yet despite their modesty, deferring to the vocal superiority of the Superstars, they were surely bright enough for all who heard them sing. Donizetti’s 1830, ‘Anna Bolena’ will be performed by the Orchestra and Chorus of the Opéra Royal de Wallonie-Liège on their second visit to ROHM since their production of Bizet’s’Pearl Fishers’, on Thursday 28th and Saturday 30th November. Donizetti’s ’Tudor Trilogy’ is necessarily dark and foreboding, and the Quartet on Saturday revealed the tragedy of the Tudor Queens of England and identified superbly with the characters’ destiny and pathos.
The ‘Entrées’ served up the melodrama of Queen Elizabeth in Donizetti’s less familiar, ‘Roberto Devereux’ (Elizabeth’s lover), from the perspective of Elisabeth’s companion, Sara, sung in the dark, rich alto qualities of Italian Mezzo-Soprano, Elena Belfiore, in the imploring unaccompanied opening of, ‘All’afflito è dolce il pianto’ followed by a still, controlled delivery of the plaintive aria. The entire recital was accompanied on the resident Grand Piano by Isle of Man-born Hilary Caine with dazzling dexterity throughout.
The anguished voice of American soprano, Elaine Alvarez, filled the Galleria Courtyard with breathtaking accuracy in a space which can be unforgiving. Singers can be left exposed by the Galleria’s acoustics, yet Ms Alvarez rose to the challenge admirably, and gave a dramatic performance, convincing listeners of her pain and heartache.
A short coloratura cadenza reflected her broken heart in, ‘Vivi ingrato’ leading to an impossibly high and beautiful, ‘Quel sangue versato Elisabetta’, the passion almost reducing her to tears in this substantial dramatic aria.
Two gentlemen appeared on stage to portray Talbot and Leicester from, ‘Maria Stuarda’, (performed at ROHM in December 2013) as Side Dishes. The lyrical tenor voice of Canadian Charles Sy was a delight to experience as he marvelled at the miniature of Mary Queen of Scots in, ‘Questa imago, questo foglio’, (this portrait, this letter) responded by steady, cautionary advice from the renowned Turkish Bass-Baritone, Burak Bilgili. The tenor role in the following duet, ‘Ah, rimiro il bel sembiante’ was demanding, yet their ensemble singing was touchingly moving. Sweeping on stage with regal confidence dressed in black trousers and red jacket, Elena Belfiore demonstrated great presence as Queen Elizabeth in the dry recitative, ‘Sì, vuol di Francia il rege...’ (Yes, I will marry the King of France) and beautifully legato in the aria, ‘Ah, dal ciel discenda un raggio’, displaying tender yet strong Tudor theatricality as she infused the role with perfect characterisation, concluding in a powerful cadenza at the top of her soprano range.
In extracts from ‘Anna Bolena’ itself for the Main Course, the cast were understandably more secure. ‘Da Quel dì che, lei perduta.....’ was an unremarkable aria, but Charles Sy as Lord Percy did it justice with his confident portrayal and finely controlled singing in his sustained high tenor register with, ‘Ah! Così ne’ dì ridenti’.
Spoiler alert – in Donizetti’s opera Anna collapses on stage and dies instead of execution, and yet the Finale came, as it did for Anne Boleyn. Elaine Alvarez performed, ‘Al dolce guidami .....Coppia iniqua’ from the famous “Mad Scene” (‘Are you weeping? What causes these tears? This is my wedding day’) in well-placed, long falling phrases. Her poised coloratura aria reflected her determination to face death bravely in a riveting performance which was met with poignant silence in the audience. This is one opera not for the faint-hearted and certainly not for children. Their encore, a reprise of the Trio’s end, was no less moving, but to understand how Donizetti transformed history for the stage, one needs to attend the full ROHM production of, ‘Anna Bolena’ this weekend.
Photo credit Khalid Al Busaidy