Opera’s Greatest Choruses

Opera Queensland Chorus

The Queensland Orchestra

Johannes Fritzsch, conductor

ABC Classics ABC 476 3489

TPT: 62’08”

reviewed by Neville Cohn     476 3489 Opera Choruses

choruses from The Magic Flute (Mozart), Fidelio (Beethoven), Boris Godunov (Mussorgsky), Nabucco (Verdi), Il Trovatore (Verdi), Macbeth (Verdi), Aida (Verdi), Lohengrin (Wagner), Pagliacci (Leoncavallo), Cavalleria Rusticana (Mascagni), Madama Butterfly (Puccini), Turandot (Puccini)

Here’s a treasure chest of some of the most loved – and frequently heard – choruses from the opera. But even though many, indeed most, of these tracks have been heard times without number on radio or on CD as well as live on both the concert and opera stages of the world, there’s nothing in the least jaded about these excerpts, not a hint of familiarity breeding indifference. In fact, one of the most appealing features of this compilation is the freshness of the presentation. There’s no hint here of that oh-not-again dullness that sometimes informs performances of music of this sort.

Consider, for instance, the Anvil Chorus from Il Trovatore: how well momentum is maintained here, how full-throated and vital the singing sounds as, from the percussion section of the Queensland Orchestra we hear the unmistakeable, idiosyncratic sound of a beaten anvil. And the hushed poignancy that informs Va’, pensiero from Verdi’s Nabucco could hardly have been bettered.

I particularly liked the Bridal Chorus from Wagner’s Lohengrin in which the singing has a most beguiling freshness backed by most musical, transparent string textures. And there are cheery, sun-filled moments in the Bell Chorus from Pagliacci, the singing backed by some of the compilation’s most meaningful orchestral playing.

Verdi’s Macbeth is represented by the Chorus of the Scottish refugees, with bodeful brass complementing singing that evokes notions of despair beyond despair. And the bloodthirsty cries of the crowd as the chorus watches a hapless prince being led to his death come across strongly in  Turn the Grindstone from Turandot.

Both chorus and orchestra seem positively to relish coming to grips with the Grand March from Aida; it fairly bristles with savage pomp. And in the coronation scene from Boris Godunov, the barbaric splendour of the writing comes across most effectively.

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