I made it back from Gütersloh yesterday but only just in time to get to the Barbican for the Belisario concert performance. What should have been an easy journey was made stressful by a third world performance by British Airways and Heathrow, and by the crowds from the Chelsea-Manchester United game which delayed me even further on my way home, which is less than a mile from Chelsea's Stamford Bridge ground.
But I ran puffing and panting to arrive at the Barbican with three minutes to spare. And how glad I am that I made the effort. This was a hugely rewarding evening at several levels.
Mark Elder is clearly in love with this music, and this is a man whose versatility is legendary. But including Donizetti amongst his list might surprise many. But not me - we go back to 1968 when I invited him to join the music staff at Wexford to work on an obscure Rossini opera, L'equivoco stravagante. And he showed his sympathy with this early bel canto repertory from the beginning. As Music Director of the Hallé Orchestra he rarely gets to do this kind of thing these days. And the BBC Symphony, last night's orchestra, is hardly accustomed this repertoire either. But Mark secured stunning playing from the BBC players, he had a proper string strength which ensured a fully nourished sound, and the wind and brass were coaxed into sparkling energy through the clear love of the music that Mark infected them with.
And Opera Rara had assembled a classy cast, including Nicola Alaimo - superb in the title role. Alamiro (not to be confused with Alaimo!) was taken splendidly by the superlative young American tenor Russell Thomas, a graduate of the Met's Lindemann programme. Joyce El-Khoury conquered the killer requirements of Antonina, and smaller roles were taken on by such distinguished singers as Alastair Miles and Peter Hoare.
But for me the revelation was Camilla Roberts, a name new to me although she has been slowly establishing a solid career in the UK over the last few years.. She took on the role of Irene, Belisario's daughter. This is a gorgeous young singer to keep an eye on. Her voice, her singing, her engagement emotionally in the part, ensured my total attention. I will not be surprised if this pops her up to a whole new level. Terrific stuff - and always such a pleasure to hear a new first class "element"!
Finally the opera itself? Well, when undertaken with such passionate commitment as was displayed by Mark Elder and his company on this occasion, one can only be won over. They recorded it last week and it will eventiually be released on Opera Rara's own CD label. It should do well and ought to provide an opportunity to reassess this excellent piece.