Tuesday 27th September

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Nabucco / La bohème / Aida at Richmond Theatre

| Culture, Music, Theatre | 03/12/2013

Ellen Kent production photo for Verdi’s ‘Nabucco’.

Ellen Kent Opera and Ballet International


Ellen Kent’s company boasted some storming performances that ensured no average production. Olga Busuioc as Abigaille maintained full-bodied voice throughout the heights of her opening aria, whilst the trio in Part 1 was so sublime that you forgot the surtitles. Petru Racovita in the titular lead gave a splendid turn both vocally and theatrically, alongside outstanding orchestral playing, revealing the depth and variation of Verdi’s exquisite palette. And Racovita’s duet with Busuioc in Part 3 was absolutely delightful.

The show benefited from the strong visual cohesion of designer Felix Bessonov; autumnal browns and golds offset by blue-lit scenes of natives in sorrowful grey rags. ‘The Hebrew Slaves Chorus’ did not disappoint, and Valeriu Cojocaru as Zaccaria followed at his best: impressive vocalisation stitching into the tapestry of the choral refrains, strong and sure yet delicate and tender. Then, another strident solo from Racovita coupled with off-stage chorus and a wondrously winsome trumpet solo. The final scene was lifted by the captivating Zarui Vardanean as Fenena, her voice soaring above the chorus. A finale of aural contrast, a fitting and fabulous end to Verdi’s masterful masterwork.

Ellen Kent production photo for Puccini’s ‘La Bohème’.

Ellen Kent production photo for Puccini’s ‘La Bohème’.

La bohème

Kent’s direction boasted substantial contributions from Petru Racovita as Marcello and Sorin Lupu as Rodolfo. Rodolfo’s first solo ensured immediate applause, whilst Mimi’s response, as ennobled by Elena Dee, was equally well-received. This was a more intimate set than the previous night but worked less well. Possibly, even alongside the random puffs of chimney-stacks (typical signatory flourishes of Kent), this hackneyed Parisian scene could have been more poetic. Indeed, abstraction paid-off in Act 2 with Nadia Shvet’s silhouette trees and stylised Eiffel Tower emblazoned in gold. Ecaterina Danu carried the role of Musetta magnificently on pink-feathered shoulders though her “doddery old man” jarred, being neither. The market scene leant towards light entertainment but instead became over-done, a rich pudding missing the tang of those lost golden days.

However, the set for Act 3 drew gasps: rungs of the Tower at close-range beneath silent snow, an Art Nouveau tree twisting into a stage-drape. Some relief after the aforementioned chocolate-box if, of course, that is the whole point. But much more effective pared-back. Against which, Marcello and Mimi’s duet shone – and Mimi’s solo, touching and poignant, pulled-in that essential contrast. ‘Traditional’ is the byword for these productions, terrific showcases for opera, enjoyable and accessible introductions to the art-form. Kent knows her audience as intimately as her material, radiating an evident passion. Back at the garret, a stunning duet by the male leads. The final scenes were extremely well-executed and included an excellent solo by Valeriu Cojocaru. The last note, that Elena Dee is not only a splendid soprano but a greatly gifted actor.

Zarui Vardanean and Elena Dee.

Zarui Vardanean and Elena Dee.


The drama and thrill of ‘Aida’ is Verdi is at the peak of his powers. In this case, complemented by the ravishing ethnically-inspired sets of Felix Bessonov. The action got off to a flying start with ‘Celeste Aida’ beautifully enunciated by Sorin Lupu. Elena Dee as Aida stood literally alone before a black-and-turquoise hieroglyph, her heart-wrenching solo confirming star status; spectators in the palms of her outstretched hands. Her superb vocal control belied a soft, fluid edge bringing something very special to the role. And high praise to Zarui Vardanean who as a glittering Amneris simultaneously secured the counter-weight to Ms Dee. Thus Ellen Kent succeeds in bringing Grand Opera out of the Opera Houses, and deserves laudation.

Baton-twirling to the ‘Triumphal March’ would appear twee if not with fire, and seems surprisingly apt. Not so employing the child extras as the slaves, if brilliantly staged with exuberant chorus. As for the additional ‘amazing fire effects’, nothing to get excited about and I could have done without. Rather that Act 3 proffered another top-drawer performance from Petru Racovita as Aida’s father, sensitively intertwining with his offspring. Vardanean held her own, most admirably, in Act 4: pacing the emptied platform, the stifling sense of foreboding underwritten in the darkening score; echoed in a delicately-lit stage by Valeriu Cucarschi. With some of the most beautiful and dynamic lighting I’ve seen, the closure was a knock-out.

All performances with the Chisinau National Opera (chorus master Victor Donos) and National Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Nicolae Dohotaru.


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