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Seen and Heard Opera Review

Soloists / Orchestra and Chorus of the Royal Opera / Mark Elder (conductor). Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London. 20.04.2007 (ED)


Director: Elijah Moshinsky
Set designs: Michael Yeargan
Costume designs: Peter J. Hall
Lighting: Paul Pyant
Fight Director: William Hobbs


Conductor: Mark Elder

Stiffelio: José Cura
Lina: Sondra Radvanovsky
Stankar: Roberto Frontali
Raffaele von Leuthold: Reinaldo Macias
Jorg: Alastair Miles
Federico di Frengel: Nikola Matišic§
Dorotea: Liora Grodnikaite*

§ Jette Parker Young Artist
*Jette Parker Principal

Stiffelio is a notable work because it reveals Verdi as a remarkable composer when dealing with contemporary moral issues, as La Traviata does also. Moreover, the composer felt strongly that it contained some of his best music, which should not be taken to indicate either his most widely known or memorable, merely that which fits the drama and pace of the action well.

Elijah Moshinsky’s classic production for the Royal Opera certainly emphasises the layers of drama to be drawn from Francesco Piave’s libretto as well as Verdi’s music. The atmosphere of personal stability surrounding Stiffelio is quickly established, making the subsequent unravelling of his relationship with Lina and his moral world-view all the more powerful. Moshinsky’s style of direction may have changed a little in the years since this production was new, but his emphasis upon bold gesture seems still highly relevant and much needed in this work. Michael Yeargen’s set designs lend themselves well to creating the appropriate domestic or religious atmospheres that the action demands also.

For me it continues to be Verdi’s realisation of the main characters that is the main reason to experience Stiffelio. José Cura previously took the title role at Covent Garden in 1995, but the intervening years have seen his voice change considerably. Arguably he no longer what many would consider a typical star tenor’s voice, if such a thing exists; for his is now darker in timbre, appreciably more comfortable in the middle and lower ranges, though not without reach to the top when required. Coping with the challenges such change throws up can make an artist out of a musician. His phrasing is still sensitively timed and weighted, and his long experience in the Verdian repertoire pays dividends in that respect too. If early on in the evening an occasional hollowness of tone induced slight doubts as to his vocal form, these were more than offset by the dramatic benefits to be reaped in his later prolonged scenes of doubt, anguish and soul-searching. That his tone could be none other than it was gave credibility to thought, action and plot that could hardly be manufactured.

Sondra Radvanovsky, for a while now a lyric soprano to listen out for, charted the line between conscience, desire and consequence with careful understanding. Her singing was ample of tone, projected with feeling and emotion to amplify her consummate acting abilities. Very much the lynch-pin of the drama, Radvanovsky’s Lina forged the required link for the action around her. Roberto Frontali, as her father Stankar, turned in an admirably solid and insightful portrayal of a man possessed of feeling for his daughter and consumed with righting the moral wrongs found on his doorstep. Vocally, his performance was well shaded to provide a neat counterpoint to both Cura and Radvanovsky. Alastair Miles brought authority to the role of Jorg, an elderly minister, with his imposingly deep bass. The smaller roles were generally well taken.

The crucial underpinning to all this, however, was provided by the orchestra, chorus and Mark Elder’s expert conducting. Ever a man with an instinct for drama, Elder realised not only the seamless forward flow of the music, but psychological depth within the playing of it too. If some make the Prelude sound ponderous, Elder made it portentous of the events to follow and never let the tension drop. With Verdi requiring a continual stream of action with his linked series of numbers, the chorus not only vocally contributed with enthusiasm but made their stage appearances without disjointing the action.

In short, Stiffelio sees the Royal Opera back on peak form. That this cast and company has a very special relationship with the work cannot be denied.


Evan Dickerson

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Contributors: Marc Bridle, Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling,  Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, John Leeman, Sue Loder,Jean Martin, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill,  Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, Alex Verney-Elliott,Raymond Walker, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)

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