Concert Performances

Il Trovatore xxxx Nabucco xxxx A Masked Ball xxxx Aida xxxx The Force of Destiny xxxDon Carlos xxxx La Traviata

 William Bell, Music Director

St. Andrew's Church, Cheltenham = - 8th & 10th November, 2002

Cast: Michael Powell (Manrico) David Purcell (Conte de Luna); Susan Black (Leonora); Edward Harper (Ferrando) Josephine Williamson (Azucena)


Bel Canto turns the heat up

IL TROVATORE is definitely not for the squeamish, but its endless stream of appealing melodies makes this one of Verdi’s most popular operas and an excellent choice by Bel Canto Opera to commemorate his centenerary. Susan Black was on magnificent form as Leonora...Jospephine Williamson cut an exciting figure as Manrico’s gipsy foster-mother, and David Purcell was at his dramatic best as the tyrannical count.

William Bell’s spirited direction turned up the dramatic temperature. Excellent chorus work and brilliant orchestral effects added the finishing touches to this outstanding musical event.

Roger Jones


St. Andrew’s Church, Cheltenham = - 8th & 10th November, 2002

Susan Black, David Purcell, Maria Moll

Cast: David Purcell (Nabucco); Maria Moll (Abigaille); Susan Black (Fenena); Patrick Briddon (Ishmaele); Edward Harper (Zaccaria); David Bennett (Abdallo)


Bel Canto mastered Nabucco

ONCE AGAIN conductor William Bell delights his audience with a hand-picked opera, fully supported by experienced soloists, a full-throated chorus and a well balanced local orchestra.

It was a tribute to the skill of all the singers that Verdi’s noble arias and eloquent choruses - especially Va pensiero - came over with powerful effect.

All the soloists were outstanding, with Maria Moll as Abigail and David Purcell as Nabucco particularly successful in their dramatic interpretations.

Ronald Kay


(Un ballo in maschera)

St. Andrew's Church, Cheltenham = - 9th & 11th November, 2002

Michael Powell and Robert Bateman

Cast: Susan Black (Amelia) Michael Powell (King Gustav III); Robert Bateman (Ankerstrom); Josephine Williamson (Ulrica); Kate Bennett (Oscar); Alan Smith (Count Horn); Edward Harper (Count Ribbing)

2006 AIDA

The Pittville Pump Room, Cheltenham - 2nd & 3rd March, 2006

Cast: Susan Black (Aida), Michael Powell (Radames), Josephine Williamson (Amneris), David Purcell (Amanosro), Edward Harper (Ramphis)

Bel Canto Opera orchestra and chorus conducted by William Bell


Bel Canto is slave to perfection

LIFE’S a problem if you’re a slave girl madly in love with a foreign general who has conquered your country. Alas, passion and politics don’t mix, as this grandest of grand operas demonstrates. Although Verdi’s AIDA lends itself to spectacular treatment, Bel Canto wisely opted for a concert performance in English. This had the merit of focusing attention on the splendid music and psychology of the protagonists.

Sue Black was an impressive heroine, singing with touching sincerity in her revealing soliloquy in Act Three. This was followed by a radiant encounter with her father, sung by David Purcell, in which they reminisced about happier times. Radames was sung by Michael Powell, a stylish tenor, whose performance of the aria Celeste Aida got the evening off to a good start. Josephine Williamson was a passionate Amneris, Aida’s rival for his affections, and Edward Harper gave an authoritative performance as an uncompromising chief priest.

William Bell directed with his usual aplomb. After singing so rousingly in the first half, the chorus were dispatched to the gallery where they created magical choral effects. The orchestra had its moments, notably in brilliantly-orchestrated dance sequences.

Roger Jones




(La Forza del destino)

The Pittville Pump Room, Cheltenham - 10th & 11th April, 2008

Sue Black and Bruno Ribeiro

Cast: Susan Black (Leonora), Bruno Rabeira (Don Alvaro) Gareth Llewelyn (Don Carlo), Edward Harper (Padre Guardiano), Josephine Williamson (Preziosilla) David Purcell (Melitone)

Bel Canto Opera orchestra and chorus conducted by William Bell


THE PLOT may be grim, but with its terrific music, dramatic confrontations, stirring choruses and impassioned duets, this Verdi opera takes some beating, particularly when given the full-blooded treatment we have come to expect from Bel Canto.

Susan Black was in fine form, both dramatically and vocally, as the fragile heroine Leonora torn between filial loyalty and love for Don Alvaro. Bruno Ribeiro in the role of Alvaro, was everything a maiden could wish for: handsome, passionate and endowed with a terrific voice which bears comparison with that of the legendary Pavarotti.

Some of his finest moments occurred with Leonora's brother. Gareth Llewelyn, taking over the role of Don Carlo at short notice, was a strong, gritty baritone, and their two voices interacted brilliantly, whether pledging eternal friendship or expressing mutual contempt.

Although this was a concert performance, there was a strong sense of atmosphere, thanks to some excellent contributions from the chorus and orchestra - not least in the powerful overture. The monastery scenes were especially effective with devout chanting from the chorus of monks and the consoling presence of bass-baritone Edward Harper as the Father Superior. Fortune-telling Josephine Williamson provided light relief before the anguish of the final act as she led the chorus of camp followers in the martial Rataplan with percussion accompaniment, while the beggars outside the monastery provoked the monk Melitone (David Purcell) into waspish fury.

The sustained applause that greeted this event was ample proof that the resourceful William Bell has another hit on his hands. Perhaps it will persuade him to defer the day he hangs up his conductor's baton.

Roger Jones


5th May, All Saints' Church, and 7th May, Pittville Pump Room, Cheltenham

CAST: Susan Black (Elisabeth of Valois), Bruno Ribiero (Don Carlos), Edward Harper (King Philip), Roderick Hunt (Grand Inquisitor), Josephine Williamson (Princess Eboli), Rhys Jenkins (Rodrigo)

Bel Canto Opera orchestra and chorus conducted by William Bell


In Bel Canto's twenty-first opera production the Portuguese tenor Bruno Ribeiro's portrayal of Carlos was both harrowing and uplifting. Sparing no effort to communicate the Spanish prince's tortured feelings, Ribeiro's thrilling voice brought a sense of awe and beauty to this musical experience.

Edward Harper cut a despotic and cold-blooded figure as King Philip of Spain, yet he seemed a man to be pitied as he sat alone in his study plagued by doubts and fears.

By contrast, Roderick Hunt's performance as the self-important, ruthless Grand Inquisitor sent a chill down every spine. Nor did the scheming Princess Eboli rank high in the approval ratings despite Josephine Williams' convincing portrayal of her.

Other characters were far more endearing, including Rhys Jenkins as Rodrigo, who came over as honest, decent and utterly dependable - and had a splendid voice to match.

The soprano Sue Black once more wowed the audience with her voice in the role of Elisabeth of Valois who, as Philip's wife, has to tread very carefully. Her final duet with Bruno Ribeiro, in which the characters reveal their true feelings for each other, almost reduced me to tears.

This was vintage Verdi with first class singing from the chorus and magnificent playing from the indefatigable orchestra. William Bell on the conductor's rostrum has once more achieved a musical miracle.

Roger Jones


14th and 17th June, Pittville Pump Room, Cheltenham

semi-staged - sung in Italian 

Christina Sampson (Violetta), Telman Guzhevsky (Alfredo), Colin Campbell (Giorgio Germont)



GLOUCESTERSHIRE ECHO Tuesday 14th June, 2011 

RISING to the tough call of Verdi's exceedingly challenging vocal demands Bel Canto Opera's cleverly semi-staged production deserves credit. Bringing their wealth of experience to the music and stage direction William Bell and Susan Black achieved a robust semi-professional performance. Skilful choreography brought just the right amount of movement to the small stage adding interest and particularly in the charming gypsy dance. Tastefully lavish period costumes graced the characters.

 Technically excellent the voices initially seemed tight and tense as though combating what they may have perceived as a loss of projection into the dome of the Pump Room underneath which the stage was placed. Perfectly heard they need not have concerned themselves on this count. Opportunities to use dynamics were missed resulting in a general lack of drama and pathos which was totally redeemed in Act Three.

 A heartachingly beautiful final duet Parigi O Cara highlighted the chemistry between Christine Sampson (Violetta) and Telman Guzhevsky ( Alfredo). Christine deftly executed the coloratura of Sempre Libera in Act One and coped with all the excruciatingly high notes throughout but her character depiction lacked a fragility and vulnerability which could have been achieved with greater attention to the use of dynamics to match her expressive d emeanour. Telman's Alfredo was a duly besotted suitor. Once relaxed his warm, lyrical, tenor tones became evident as in Di Provenza Il Mar* but were bland dynamically. Colin Campbell's (Giorgio) commanding, rich baritone added a presence on stage with his fine interpretation of the authoritative and morally conventional father.

 Substantial support emanated from the orchestra and chorus seated behind the orchestra. ...overall an admirable performance which rose to the tough call with a supportive and approving audience.

Jill Bacon

*the reviewer was in error - Di provenza il mar is a baritone aria sung by Giorgio Germont, not the tenor Alfredo



We live in harsh economic times when arts funding is facing large cuts. My great worry is that the most expensive of the performing arts, opera, will soon become solely the preserve of the rich &endash; in the UK, at any rate. This seems a shame when the appetite for live opera is growing. But you really need a six figure salary to consider a seat at Covent Garden these days (unless you happen to be an opera reviewer!) and Britain's other professional opera companies are faced with the dilemma of having to raise ticket prices or else lower standards.

Opera for all, alas, looks like becoming a thing of the past; the cost is just too high. However, one way around the problem could be the pro-am principle. You have pro-am golf tournaments featuring both professional and amateur players, so why not pro-am opera with professional singers in the principal roles supported by an amateur chorus and musicians.The performance was excellent. The orchestra and chorus were in fine form but what made the performance stand out was the quality of the principal singers. The success (or failure) of La Traviata rests largely on the shoulders of the soprano singing the role of Violetta, and Christina Sampson proved to be an inspired choice. She was everything a Violetta should be &endash; fragile, waif-like, utterly convincing in the role and with a wonderfully expressive voice. She could belt out the drinking song 'Libiami ne'lieti calici' with gay abandon yet revealed her innermost thoughts and fears with such sensitivity in 'Un di felice eterea.' I note that Christina has sung a lot of oratorio, but hope that she will change track, since her acting ability makes her a natural for the opera stage.

Telman Guzhevsky, described as an Armenian born Israeli tenor, was the perfect foil as Alfredo. Passionate, impetuous, prone to anger and terribly mixed up, he wore his heart on his sleeve and bared his soul in some powerful arias and duets. Colin Campbell was a stern and unyielding Giorgio Germont with a commanding voice, but seemed rather out of place. I've always regarded Alfredo's father as an anachronism, very set in his old -fashioned ways, as we learn from his aria 'Di provenza il mar' - but here was a man dressed up to the nines in clothes from the latest Burberry catalogue. He looked far more in touch with the modern age than anyone else!

There was an interesting layout with a temporary stage in front of the orchestra and conductor, which might have presented problems, but didn't. It even accommodated some lively dancing in Act Two, Scene Two, yet despite the confined space none of the dancers fell off. The whole performance was a splendid effort, and though the orchestra may have sounded too strident in places, this was a minor blemish, and I was glad to have been in the audience to have my heart strings pulled.

Roger Jones



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