Chelsea Opera Group perform Verdi’s first comic opera: Un giorno di regno

The premiere of his second opera, following Oberto, was a
flop; after the first-night fiasco La Scala cancelled all further
performances and forgot about Il giorno di regno until 2001. There
were a few other performances in Italy but after the 1859 production in the
Teatro Nuovo in Naples over one hundred years passed before it was seen in
an Italian opera house: at Parma’s Teatro Regio, where it was revived to
commemorate the 150th anniversary of Verdi’s birth.

Felice Romani’s libretto (based on Alexandre Vincent Pineu-Duval’s play Le faux Stanislas) tells of a French military officer, Il
Cavaliere di Belfiore, who has agreed to help out his friend Stanislaus,
the future King of Poland, by impersonating him while Stanislaus travels to
Warsaw to take the throne. The ‘King for a Day’ sets about using his
‘power’ to do good deeds: that is, by disentangling some unhappy
betrothals. Giulietta’s father, the Barone di Kelbar, is threatening to wed
her to his elderly, rich friend, Signor la Rocca, but she’s got her eyes on
the latter’s nephew, Edoardo di Sanval. Belfiore himself is adored by the
Baron’s niece, a young widow, the Marchesa del Poggio, but, fed up with his
philandering ways, she has engaged herself to another. A double-wedding is
planned, and the Baron’s pride is tickled by the promised presence of
Stanislaus. The meeting of the surprised Marchesa and the disguised
Belfiore on the wedding morning results in confusion and further
masquerades, as the plot twists and turns in contortions that are not
always clear to the audience.

Allowing for the shortcomings of Felice Romani’s libretto, I’m not sure
that Chelsea Opera Group, supporting a fine team of soloists and conducted
by Tom Seligman, captured every humorous ‘nuance’ of this Rossinian tale –
the laughter in the Cadogan Hall was of the occasional chuckle rather than
belly laugh kind, and the Chorus, though confident and firm of voice,
looked decidedly serious throughout. But, then, Verdi labelled his opera a melodramma giocoso – a drama with some humour rather than a comic
caper – and, in any case, it’s hard to capture the full spirit of an opera
in a concert performance. But, Chelsea Opera Group emphasised the geniality
and vitality of the work with their affectionate and accomplished reading.

The cast of soloists were excellent. We don’t seem to have enough
opportunities to see and hear baritone George von Bergen in London, though
he has appeared at Opera Holland Park in recent seasons (in this summer’s

Un ballo in maschera



in 2018) and will sing Sharpless when Madame Butterfly returns to
the Coliseum next spring. His dark, fluid, juicy tone, ability to make the
most of the text, and dramatic presence made his Belfiore as dashing as he
was dastardly. I described tenor Luis Gomez (a former JPYA) as a
suave-toned Fenton when he appeared in the ROH’s Falstaff revival
in July 2015, and ‘suave’ was an apt word on this occasion: his dulcet
tenor rang freely and with refinement, emphasising Edoardo’s passion,
sincerity but not neglecting his comic gaucheness.

Edoardo’s Act 2 duet with Giulietta was one of the highlights, and this was
in no small part owing to the sparkling brightness of Paula Sides’ soprano.
Sarah-Jane Lewis evinced a grace and maturity which befitted the older of
the two women, especially in her aria of disillusionment and despair, but
her Marchese lit some combative sparks with Belfiore: however, Lewis’s
soprano – though warm and rich, doesn’t quite have the weight to dominate
some of the exchanges or soar above the orchestral accompaniment, though
did Seligman provide sympathetic support.

John Savourin (Barone di Kelbar) and Nicholas Fowell (Signore la Rocca)
were a rather bitter pair of buffos, though both projected the text well
and their basses were ear-pleasing. Perhaps to make the comedy felt, a
greater physical and kinetic dimension is required – not easy when pinioned
behind a music stand in a stationary line. And, at times the cast were
rather bound to their scores, thought this is forgivable given that after
this single performance they are unlikely to be asked to reprise their
roles any time soon. The minor roles of Il Conte Ivrea and Un Servo were
competently sung by Aaron Godfrey-Meyers (tenor) and Kevin Holland (bass)

There was a time when I found the Chelsea Opera Group Orchestra less than
polished with regard to style, intonation and ensemble, but things have
improved steadily and markedly of late, and this was a very persuasive
orchestral performance characterised by assured tuning – particularly in
the woodwind and brass, who played with confident attack – well-defined
colour, and technical competence. Seligman had evident faith in his
players, and his economical and precise gestures ensured rhythmic clarity –
important during the strings’ frequently busy accompaniments to the arias.
The occasional, ever so slight, relaxation of tempo – as during some string
scurrying in the overture – ensured the collective fingers found the notes
tidily. If I were to quibble, I’d observe that in Act 1 the loud volume was
unalleviated, but Act 2 brought far more dynamic, and thus dramatic,
variation. Seligman kept things moving swiftly along, even when the action
was tying itself up in contortions, and the secco recitatives were
unfussily presented by harpsichordist (and assistant conductor) Davide Levi
– one can imagine them being much more disruptive than they were.

I think, overall, that the soloists might have taken a few more risks.
There are plentiful opportunities for hamming up, of the kind that that
Savournin, especially, usually relishes and delivers with discerning style.
There was some attempt to conjure some ‘action’: Giulietta gave Edoardo a
feisty sideswipe, and when Belfiore’s squire Delmonte (John Vallance)
delivered the King’s letter to his master, he was aided by the orchestra
playing parcel-the-parcel.

This was a performance that became increasingly ebullient and lively. At the
end, the cast shrugged their shoulders and declared that, in the light of all
the confusion and cock-ups the best thing would be to just forget what’s
just happened: sounds to me like a maxim that could usefully serve in other
arenas at present.

Claire Seymour

Verdi: Il giorno di regno

Il Barone di Kelbar – John Savournin, Signor la Rocca – Nicholas Folwell,
Delmonte – John Vallance, Il Cavaliere di Belfiore – George von Bergen,
Edoardo di Sanval – Luis Gomes, La Marchesa del Poggio -Sarah-Jane Lewis,
Giulietta di Kelbar – Paula Sides, Un servo – Kevin Hollands, Il Conte
Ivrea – Aaron Godfrey-Mayes; Conductor – Tom Seligman, Chorus Director –
Lindsay Bramley, Assistant Conductor & Continuo – Davide Levi,
Orchestra of Chelsea Opera Group.

Cadogan Hall, London; Saturday 12th October 2019.

product_title=Chelsea Opera Group: Verdi’s Un giorno di regno at Cadogan Hall
product_by=A review by Claire Seymour
product_id=Above: George von Bergen (baritone)