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A merry war

06/06/2000 -  
Hector Berlioz: Béatrice et Bénédict
Enkelejda Shkosa (Beatrice), Kenneth Tarver (Benedick), Susan Gritton (Hero), Sara Mingardo (Ursula), Laurent Naouri (Claudio), David Wilson-Johnson (Somarone), Dean Robinson (Don Pedro)
London Symphony Orchestra, London Symphony Chorus, Colin Davis (conductor)

Béatrice et Bénédict, the least of Berlioz' operas, doesn't quite support the weight of the luxury cast and orchestral and choral forces that gave tonight's concert performance. Benvenuto Cellini demands bravura and excess of all kinds, and Les Troyens, to be performed by Davis and the LSO in December, needs massive forces to reflect the relentlessness of tragic fate. Béatrice is a slight comedy of lovers admitting that they are in love in spite of themselves, lacking both the darker aspects of Shakespeare's play and the wit. (It is in fact close to being the type of nineteenth-century French opera up with which your correspondant will not put, all expressive numbers for the singers and stage spectacle.) Only the romantic scene-painting really stands on its own, and it's not really enough.

The main romantic voice is that of Hero, the happily-in-love young woman whose wedding brings on Beatrice and Benedick's. Susan Gritton gave a wide-eyed and superbly sung performance of her aria, with a sweetly not-quite-parodic cadenza. Her duet with Sara Mingardo as Ursula in the night music at the end of the first act was outstandingly beautiful, and well worth the luxury of casting Mingardo in such a small role. Laurent Naouri as Claudio, in contrast, really had nothing to do.

The main lovers were not quite sparkling. Kenneth Tarver was Fenton in the Royal Opera Falstaff, and is probably still more of a Fenton. He singing as Benedick was musical but he didn't find the humour. Enkeledja Shkosa as Beatrice acted like a big star but similarly didn't have much vocal excitement.

David Wilson-Johnson as the comic relief Somarone had more character than all the rest of the singers put together.

This version used adapted passages from Shakespeare's text, performed by actors, to provide a skeleton of the narrative. The selections seemed to be chosen mainly for being famous, and it didn't really work -- the parody epithalamium, the night-music and the carouse that opens the second act all came and went without explanation. Having actors peform the original play also reminded us of the wit and edge missing from Berlioz' version.

This performance was recorded, and will be available on CD at a later date. One day soon they'll be selling them as you leave the hall.

H.E. Elsom



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