Aroldo, UC Opera, UCL, Theatre Royal Stratford East, March 2017

Verdi’s Aroldo is a later adaptation of his Stiffelio about a Protestant pastor who eventually forgives his wife’s adultery. This priest’s tale was not easy one for Italian audiences, and following the huge success of Rigoletto, Il Trovatore and La Traviata, Verdi wanted to recreate the opera in a different setting.

All images UCOpera/ Enola Colorado

His librettist Piave turned the pastor into a returned English crusader Aroldo, named after the last Saxon king of England Harold II. His errant wife is called Mina, and other characters sport noble Saxon and Celtic names, her father Egberto (Egbert was a great king of Wessex), her lover Godvino (Harold II’s father was Godwin, Earl of Wessex), and the Celtic Briano for the holy man. The story and music of Stiffelio are largely retained until the final Act III scene of forgiveness in the church, where we are transported instead to Loch Lomond where Aroldo has become a hermit (shades of Verdi’s Forza del Destino). The bucolic setting with huntsmen and shepherds inspires music of a quite different character, including an excellent storm scene that the production team enliven with lighting effects and a gauze that half hid the protagonists at the start of Act I, before being used by Mina at the start of Act II as she prayed to her dead mother.

Egbert watches Aroldo threaten Godvino

UC Opera does a fantastic job, year after year, under its music director Charles Peebles, who produced playing of compelling verve from the orchestra, and I loved the solo trumpet in the overture. Direction of the chorus by Pia Furtado, helped by Orley Quick’s choreography, produced synchronised action unsuitable for a large opera production, but huge fun here as the students performed it so well. Choral singing was super, with principal roles left to professionals as usual. Anthony Flaum as Aroldo sang a bold tenor of extensive lyrical dimensions, and will surely go far, and Richard Morrison’s Egberto produced a firm baritone and marvellous solo at the start of Act III as he determined to end the prospect of a life without honour. His shame is the matrimonial infidelity of his daughter Mina, who showed explosive power at her first entrance, and dramatic effectiveness thereafter. A strong and clearly sung bass by Julian Debreuil as Briano, with Anthony Colasanto making his operatic debut in the tenor role of Godvino, and first-year students Fabian Helmrich and Loren Kell showing fine presence in the solo roles of Enrico and Elena.

Aroldo, Briano, Mina in Act IV

The lovely quartets towards the end of Acts II and III, remind us that Verdi was a master craftsman, and this rarely performed opera is well worth a visit to Stratford, where the theatre is but 5 minutes walk from the station.

Performances continue on March 22, 24, 25 — for details click here.

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