It is highly unusual to begin a review with a critique of the venue. Regrettably, when the hall militates against an adequate appraisal of both a work and its performers, then attention must be paid. The New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall is one of Boston’s most prized places for solo recitals and chamber music. However, its cozy rectangular space seating 1050, can barely contain an orchestra of 80, a chorus of 70, and 9 soloists – let alone accommodate them acoustically – as it was called on to do Friday evening for a concert performance by Odyssey Opera of Massenet’s 1885 opera, Le Cid.

Tamara Mancini (Chimène) and Paul Groves (Rodrigue) © Kathy Wittman
Tamara Mancini (Chimène) and Paul Groves (Rodrigue)
© Kathy Wittman

The singers suffered the most. Aligned along the lip of the stage and well out of its soundbox, their voices had no room to bloom. At times they were barely audible: at others they were completely covered by the orchestra and chorus. Never were they heard to full effect. Acoustic feedback marred and muffled notes, particularly those above the staff, and muddied duets and ensembles. At forte and fortissimo, the orchestra definitely raised the roof, but at the expense of a listener’s comfort. People around me in the center balcony noticeably flinched at the orchestra in full cry.

The two leads were the two primary victims. Tamara Mancini’s large, dramatic voice – more than equal to Chimène’s requirements – had no room to expand and bounced back on itself, casting a veil over everything she sang and muting her high notes. Paul Groves' smaller, more lyrical voice has a fair amount of metal in it which allowed him to cut through the wall of sound at times. But more often than not, it was swallowed by the hall or swamped by the orchestra. Nonetheless, the martial “Ô noble lame étincelante” (sounding like the first cousin of Le Prophète’s “Roi du ciel”) and the deservedly famous Act III aria, “Ô Souverain, ô Juge, ô Père” proved he had the voice, the style, and the temperament for a a first-rate Rodrigue.

Eleni Calenos (L'Infante) © Kathy Wittman
Eleni Calenos (L'Infante)
© Kathy Wittman
Eleni Calenos as the Infante had the audience sit up and take notice as she entered looking for all the world like Audrey Hepburn in her sleek, white, off-the-shoulder  gown, hair pulled tightly back in an elegant up-do. Her singing was equally elegant and refined.

Oren Gradus’ solid bass anchored the crucial role of Rodrigue’s father Don Diègue, while both Michael Chioldi (the King) and Kristopher Irmiter (Comte de Gormas, Chimène’s father) revelled in their roles vocally and dramatically.

A microphone rig was suspended above the first row of the orchestra so, if a future broadcast is planned, it will undoubtedly afford the opportunity to better assess the voices. For now, though, it would be unfair to comment further. Reservations about volume aside, the orchestra was outstanding bringing élan and a spectrum of colors to Massenet’s rich, coruscating score.

Perhaps a more refined calibration of dynamics by conductor Gil Rose would have allowed for a greater appreciation of this rarely performed opera but, when all is said and done, a piece of this scope and dynamic range just doesn’t fit in Jordan Hall. A shame, because Le Cid has much more to recommend it than the oft excerpted lively and colorful ballet music, Act III’s Rhapsodie Mauresque, the tenor’s aria, or Chimène’s “Pleurez! pleurez mes yeux” with its swoops and swoons anchored by the clarinet instead of the saxophone anticipating Werther’s “Air des larmes”.

Odyssey Opera would be wise to take the advice of the sheriff in Jaws if any operas of  a similar scale are in their future: “You’re gonna need a bigger boat!”