Promising Performances in Young Artists’ Summer Showcase

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Mozart, Donizetti, Puccini: Jette Parker Young Artists, Pedro Ribeiro (director), James Simpson (lighting), soloists, David Gowland and Jean-Paul Pruna (piano), Geoffrey Paterson (conductor). Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London 29.6.2012 (JPr)

The Oak Foundation – an international organisation founded by Jette and Alan Parker in Switzerland in 1998 to promote all manner of non-profit-making good causes including the environment, human rights and social integration – are the sponsors of the Jette Parker Young Artists. The Programme was established in 2001 and the information we were given in a folder available on entry to the Linbury Studio Theatre reminded us that those involved ‘are an international group of outstanding professionals at the start of their career (hence ‘young’), who have undertaken formal training and have already worked with professional companies. There are usually ten singers, a conductor, a répétiteur and a director on the Programme at any one time, but the configuration may vary. The Young Artists are not students, but contracted, salaried employees of the Royal Opera House … Each artist works on productions for The Royal Opera, singing smaller roles, covering larger roles or joining the music or directing staff.’

Former graduates of the Jette Parker Young Artists Programme will join current members in a special performance of Gioachino Rossini’s Il viaggio a Reims (The Journey to Rheims) on 25 July that will be a special gala concert, celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Young Artists’ first Summer Performance in 2002. For their more typical end-of-year selection of random operatic scenes and ensembles they were given a ‘showcase’ in the Linbury Studio Theatre with excerpts from Mozart, Donizetti and Puccini operas all of which have been seen in the main house this season. It was clearly conceived to give the singers the opportunity to ‘show off’ some of what they had learnt during the year when covering roles – or otherwise involved somehow – in those productions of Così fan tutte, Le nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni, La Fille du régiment and La bohème.

In a printed note the director, Pedro Ribeiro, explained how ‘In this performance, we present what is hidden behind the rehearsal process of a Young Artist and decided to tear away the skin so that the skeleton can be seen. These five scenes were developed with the bare minimum props combined with the utmost imagination of everyone involved. The main objective is to show the versatility and honesty that each artist offers to the audience.’

Whether this was worth the effort since many in the audience were already involved with the JPYA programme or were their partners, relatives and friends, is a moot point but – by and large – it all succeeded in its aims. Whether the Royal Opera should ever put on something like this with only a piano is another matter? It reminded me of trying to stage Siegfried Act III there once, I think piano accompaniment of opera is ok in a church in Fulham for instance, but is not something I would like presented too often to the public at Covent Garden – though it was a ‘showcase’ and Pedro Ribeiro had his ‘concept’ for the presentation.

On stage were many elements of the rehearsal process including towards the back an area for costume, wigs and make-up. There were also some monitors, spotlights, stage flats, trunks for equipment and a small amount of demountable staging. Again that brought back nightmares of the Siegfried I once helped put on, any profits there might have been were swallowed up by the director needing a certain type of pebble for his ‘set’ – but that is another story and was not a problem here with most of this stuff just gathered from throughout the opera house itself. That also applied to the costumes that echoed those from all the original productions and had no doubt been acquired in the same way. All else that was needed was often mimed and left to the imagination of the audience.

During the three Mozart excerpts in the first half many of the performers remained on stage as observers and people busied themselves ‘behind the scenes’, however, this did not happen again after the interval. Throughout the Mozart and later Donizetti, it suggested that Ribeiro is a ‘hands on’ director because certainly no one kept their hands off anyone else for very long! Much fun was had by all including the ‘hometown’ support in the audience willing to laugh at nothing in particular. Perhaps Justina Gringyte mezzo voice didn’t quite have the limpid quality Dorabella needs though as Donna Elvira she seemed more at ease. Another mezzo, Hanna Hipp, showed that trouser roles will feature heavily on her CV because she was very impressive in her few moments as Cherubino, Soprano Anna Devin was a wonderful sexy Zerlina and then a superbly gawky and eager Marie in an Act I duet from La Fille du régiment with tenor Ji Hyun Kim’s ardent but awkward Tonio. Earlier he had been Ferrando and had some wonderfully comic moments as an effete Basilio.

The Jette Parker Young Artists featured in BBC TV’s recent search for a celebrity conductor, Maestro, and I assume it was the same group of singers who sang the complete final act from La bohème. This did in fact ‘showcase’ some of the better singers we heard; bass Jihoon Kim, who earlier was Masetto, sang a very moving ‘Old coat’ aria, ZhengZhong Zhou had been a masterful Count Almaviva and here displayed an impressive range of emotion alongside a dark-hued baritone as Marcello. Without looking entirely comfortable as a romantic figure, tenor Pablo Bemsch sang sturdily as Rodolfo. Earlier however, he did not seem to have any strong credentials yet as a Mozartian when singing Don Ottavio. Throughout the evening one of the best singing-actors to be seen was Daniel Grice who always commanded attention as Guglielmo and Leporello, and he was just as good as Schaunard. For me, I would like his fluid voice to have a little more ‘edge’ to it as it sounds rather laidback at the moment – and very much in the style of his teacher, Robert Lloyd.

Leaving the best for last I will conclude by praising Susana Gaspar – who had been a perky Susanna – for her emotionally-engaging Mimì, a spinto role she seems born to sing. After wonderfully imperious vignettes as Fiordiligi and Donna Anna, New Zealand soprano, Madeleine Pierard was more restrained as Musetta but my focus still remained on her when she was on stage. I couldn’t understand why this was until I realised who she reminded me so strongly of physically and vocally … Angela Gheorghiu!

In the pit (yes!) was a conductor Geoffrey Paterson – though I wonder how much he was needed apart from replicating ‘the rehearsal process’ – and two pianists, David Gowland and Jean-Paul Pruna. I assume they played separately and they were very supportive during the Mozart and Donizetti but for La bohème Act IV the piano accompaniment definitely lacked all of the emotional depth Puccini’s orchestra brings to it.

Jim Pritchard

For further information about the Jette Parker Young Artists visit