Chairman of the Chelsea Opera Group retires as 1857 Boccanegra replaces William Tell

Donizetti's La favorite and Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur complete the 08-09 season

13 October 2008

Stephen Gadd, who will sing in Donizetti's La favorite on 15 November 2008The Chairman of the London-based Chelsea Opera Group, R. W. Montgomery, has announced his decision to retire after twenty-two years in charge.

At the end of his fifty-seventh thrice-yearly newsletter, just published, Montgomery writes that it has 'been a great privilege to have helped guide this extraordinary organisation, with which my first contact was singing in the ad hoc chorus of Die Zauberflöte in Cambridge in 1954.

'COG has had four chairmen since it was formed in 1950,' he continues, 'all happily still with us, and all of us have brought something to the job. During my watch has come the move to the South Bank and with it the need to adopt perhaps a more commercial approach to the economics in order to balance the books. I am pleased to say that Group finances are on a sound footing.'

The new chairman will be announced shortly.

Chelsea Opera Group relies heavily on the goodwill of its performers and supporters, but over the years it has achieved some superb results. In recent times the repertoire has tended towards the dramatic bel canto, with notable performances including Verdi's Attila and Macbeth with Romanian soprano Nelly Miricioiu in the lead female roles.

Though semi-professional, the COG has attracted an array of star artists since its inception, most notably Sir Colin Davis in the early part of his career when he led performances of Berlioz's Les troyens, Benvenuto Cellini, La damnation de Faust and Roméo et Juliette. Davis was the staple conductor of the early years of the Group for almost two decades from 1950, when the repertoire also included Mozart rarities such as The Impresario and Zaide; he returned to conduct Fidelio for the twenty-fifth anniversary in 1975 and Don Giovanni for the fiftieth anniversary in 2000.

Other conductors to have made appearances with the organisation include Andrew Davis, Edward Downes (Verdi's Aroldo), John Eliot Gardiner, Mark Elder (Jenufa), Richard Hickox (Idomeneo), Paul Daniel (Tchaikovsky's The Maid of Orleans), Norman Del Mar (in a rare outing for Strauss' Daphne) and Roger Norrington, the latter making numerous appearances as chorus master and conductor.

The refurbishment of the Southbank Centre caused the COG to take refuge at Cadogan Hall in Chelsea, where Bellini's Beatrice di Tenda was well received in 2007, but the company does not always attract the audiences it needs to cover costs and there are acoustical problems when they wish to perform large-scale works. Since they were unable to book the Queen Elizabeth Hall for November, the first performance of COG's 2008-09 season will be Donizetti's lyrical La favorite on 15 November. Gianluca Marciano will conduct the original 1840 Paris version rather than the more familiar Italian La favorita. Alphonse XI, King of Castile, will be sung by leading Verdi baritone Stephen Gadd, Léonor de Guzman, his mistress, by Liora Grodnikaite and Fernand by Michael Spyres.

The return to the QEH on 15 February 2009 brings Nelly Miricioiu back to perform Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur under conductor Andrew Greenwood. However, the originally-announced summer production of Rossini's valediction to opera, Guillaume Tell, has been cancelled 'due to the unavailability of the cast we had in mind', according to Montgomery's newsletter. Instead, the original 1857 version of Verdi's Simon Boccanegra will be performed, on 7 June.

By Dominic McHugh

Picture: Stephen Gadd, who will sing in La favorite on 15 November 2008. Credit: Joe Low.

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