Donizetti’s heroines are famously Cilla Black-ish in their eponymy: presented as Lucia from Lammermoor, or Emilia from Liverpool, tonight was Linda di Chamounix opportunity to impress herself upon the Opera House’s audience.
The season’s opening night was inordinately well attended, and whether this was for societal reasons more than love for this little-known piece presented in concert performance, they were treated to stylishly-delivered classic late Donizetti.
For Mark Elder is the consummate Donizettian; clearly knowing the opera exhaustively, he added humour, as well as musical excitement, by his literal involvement. A long moment of bull facing toreador was enacted when Eglise Gutirrez dropped her ornament sheets in front of him, before, finally, he devotedly bent to retrieve them.
The pink-sequined, Cuban-American soprano Gutirrez was aptly cast in her ROH debut as Linda; the role provided generous opportunities to show off the strengths of her tessitura, and edgy coloratura. However, although her performance was delightful, and she quickly became an audience favourite, time will only improve a still somewhat monochrome voice. Upcoming tenor Stephen Costello, similarly debuting, as Linda’s paramour, Carlo, also provided much enjoyment. His wonderfully resonant, albeit slightly nasal, Italianate timbre, worked particularly well in the second act show piece, ‘Se tanto in ira agli uomini’. There were three other Covent Garden debuts: Marianna Pizzolata played the trouser-role of Pierotto sporting rolled-up sleeves, confidence, and an enticing voice; both Luciano Botelho’s cameo-sized appearance as the Intendant, and Balint Szab’s Prefect were solidly sung.
Whilst Linda’s environs are, admittedly, rather uninspiring, the issue of how to perform visually in an opera concert performance was particularly pertinent; the disparity between the soloists’ approaches was particularly distracting in the first act. The most visually engaging performance came from red bow-tied buffa-veteran Alessandro Corbelli, as the Marquis. And, although Donizetti’s G&S-style Baron Ochs character is essentially flawed in the contradiction between his vocal chicanery’s laugh motif, and his apparently terror-inducing feudal reign, Corbelli’s knowing glances, tarantella-like entrances, and dexterous time changes were extremely enjoyable. Whilst much more physically stolid, Ludovic Tzier should be a highlight of the audio recording Opera Rara is making of the two performances. Elizabeth Sikora supplied a beautifully sung balance between the two approaches.
However, the night was most dowered by Elder providing, from the opening bars of the almost Beethovenian sonata-form overture, a sensitive yet exciting driving force behind the visually and aurally showcased centre-stage orchestra. Donizetti’s clever orchestration was well-treated, with some fluid solo woodwind bridging moments, funereal brass chords, a centrally-venerated triangle, and, of course, the hurdy gurdy, which pointed up Linda’s (relatively gentle) madness in a way reminiscent of Lucia’s glass harmonica. Contrastingly, the ever-reliable opera house chorus was, for the most part, not favourably enhanced by students playing the young ragazzi extras.
Barring inconsistencies born from opera concert performance, and a complex yet prosaic plot, Linda di Chamounix proved an excellent catalyst to the season she certainly doesn’t deserve to be reconsigned to a non-existent costume cupboard.
There is one further concert performance of Linda di Chamounix on Monday 14 September at 7pm.