Goya - "El Cantor Ciego"


Apollo Chamber Orchestra and Chorus
David Chernaik, conductor

St John's Smith Square

March 28th 2002

reviewed by
Christopher Webber

Cast: Louise Cannon (Rosario); Donald Maxwell Anderson (Fernando); Joanna Campion (Pepa); Karl Daymond (Paquiro).
Director and narrator - John Theocharis

Despite a wealth of wonderful music Enric Granados' operatic recension of his Goyescas, written for the Metropolitan Opera in New York, has never become a repertoire regular. The idea was to link the Goya images which had inspired the original piano suite into a staged sequence, and although composer and librettist (Fernando Periquet Zuaznabar) achieved this deftly enough, neither the characters nor the wafer-thin plot come into engaging dramatic focus. The hour-long opera remains a memorably rich, intense evocation of a hot, Madrid summer night, culminating in a haunting vocal version of The Maiden and the Nightingale and - scarcely less impressive - Love and Death.

It's sad but hardly surprising that no British professional company has ever mounted Goyescas, so all the more credit to David Chernaik and his Apollo Chamber forces for giving us a chance to hear the opera, sung in the original Spanish and sensitively semi-staged by John Theocharis. Despite its brevity this is a complex, concentrated score, and too much of the time St Johns' booming acoustic obscured Granados's orchestral and choral writing. Again, Chernaik's need to achieve maximum clarity in this unsuitable venue led to some over-careful phrasing and stiff tempi, particularly in the powerful orchestral intermedio, here making less emotional impact than it should. Nor did Theocharis' murkily amplified spoken resumes of the three scenes do anything other than dilute the impact of Granados' music.

In other respects, however, this heroic undertaking was blessed with remarkable success, particularly in the long, intimate final scene. Despite apologies for seasonal London colds, tenor Donald Maxwell Anderson and soprano Louise Cannon covered themselves in glory, singing with ringing clarity and fervour throughout the long final love-death duet, with its Wagnerian vocal demands. Cannon's Maiden and the Nightingale was, rightly, the highlight of the evening, its tangible sense of fatalistic melancholy underpinned by a secure and unfailingly sweet tone which lacks nothing in dramatic amplitude - on this showing, I look forward eagerly to hearing this Cannon in full blast! Mezzo Joanna Campion and baritone Karl Daymond had less to do, but did it admirably. The small chorus, placed way out back, was somewhat swamped by the unmanageable acoustic but sang with enthusiastic commitment. Once past the intermedio, Chernaik was highly successful in evoking sensitive, imaginative playing from his players, and altogether the evening overcame the handicap of the venue to provide us with more than a flavour of the rare quality of Goyescas, Granados at his passionate, exquisite best.

© Christopher Webber 2002

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