United Kingdom Mozart, Donizetti, Tchaikovsky, Puccini, Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance – From Studio To Stage: Soloists, Helen Nicholas (piano), Orchestra of Royal Opera House / David Syrus, Michele Gamba and Paul Wingfield (conductors), Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London 30.6.2013 (JPr)
Mozart, Die Zauberflöte: Overture; Act I excerpt
Donizetti, Anna Bolena: Act I Duet & L’élisir d’amore – Act II Duet
Mozart, Ch’io mi scordi di te, K505
Tchaikovsky, Eugene Onegin: Act I, Scene One excerpt
Puccini, La rondine: Act II excerpt
Singers: Dušica Bijelic, Susana Gaspar, Hanna Hipp, Justina Gringyte, Pablo Bemsch, Ashley Riches, David Butt Philip, Michel de Souza, Jihoon Kim
Production: Pedro Ribeiro (director), James Simpson (lighting),
The Jette Parker Young Artists Programme is sponsored by 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. The Royal Opera’s Young Artists Programme was instigated in 2001 and over the last decade and more has furthered the musical development of professional singers, conductors, directors and répétiteurs. They spend two years at the Royal Opera House as full-salaried members of the company, receive coaching in all aspects of opera production and are cast in small roles and cover larger roles in the Royal Opera repertoire.
Before ‘School’s out for summer’ and some of the Young Artists ‘graduate’ there is an end-of-season showcase of their work. This year’s matinee concert was given the title From Studio To Stage. All nine singers on the current young artists programme were involved, as were the pianist, répétiteur/conductors and stage director. It was a staged performance, with the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House in the pit and we heard excerpts from operas by Mozart, Donizetti, Tchaikovsky and Puccini, selected to give the Young Artists the opportunity to perform roles they might have covered or work on during the season.
I just wish there was more to this annual event than a few operatic highlights put together with little real connection between one ‘bleeding chunk’ and the next. Thinking about this reminded me that it is the anniversary years for Britten, Verdi and Wagner and why was the opportunity not taken to allow the Young Artists to celebrate this in 2013? As usual, there was the seemingly random selection of music performed.
The only unifying feature of these performances is usually a set from an opera currently in the repertory. In this case it was from Act II of La rondine that starts this week. Ezio Frigerio’s palatial split-level restaurant setting brought an all-pervading art deco elegance to what we saw and disguised by some suitable murky lighting from James Simpson it worked reasonably well throughout for all the excerpts. All the costumes I suspect were somewhat faithful to the original Royal Opera productions.
If From Studio To Stage meant anything it was wonderful that this matinee event brought David Syrus, Royal Opera’s long-serving Head of Music, out of the studio and into the orchestra pit where he has been found too infrequently in recent years. I do not think it was just my imagination but how much better the orchestra sounded when conducted by him in the Donizetti and Puccini than they did during the Die Zauberflöte and Eugene Onegin scenes conducted by Paul Wingfield and Michele Gamba respectively. As to be expected Syrus also seemed to breathe with his singers, both leading and following them, bringing richly textured playing from the orchestra that never overpowered the voices on stage. By contrast, the extended section of The Magic Flute seemed to be hurried along after Paul Wingfield conducted a precise and nuanced Overture and Michele Gamba made little of the Overture and Act I Scene 1 from Eugene Onegin which despite the best efforts of all concerned seemed rather listless.
Though there is some wonderful potential in the current crop of Jette Parker Young Artists there seem to be few real ‘stars’. But I’ll be very happy if they contact me in the future to remind me of this when they are on the world’s great opera stages and I wish them the best of luck. In The Magic Flute we heard Pamina (Dušica Bijelic) and Papageno (Michel de Souza) make the best of their encounter as they reflected on the joys of love. The voices of these two sounded fresh and immediate, though sadly for me elsewhere a long season seemed to have taken its toll on the some of the singers. Justina Gringyte has considerable stage presence for Jane Seymour but perhaps not yet the absolute vocal security for this demanding bel canto role. In the Anna Bolena duet the reverse could be said of Jihoon Kim who will be Jette Parker Principal at Covent Garden next season. He brought all gravitas of his well-schooled bass to Enrico (King Henry) but his acting was rudimentary. Pablo Bemsch as a gawky Nemorino sang ‘Una furtiva lagrima’ pleasantly and was well-matched by Susana Gaspar’s spirited and ardently sung Adina.
After the interval we were shown a staged Mozart concert-aria (‘You ask that I forget you?’) accompanied by the orchestra and Helen Nicolas’s piano spotlit stage right. A business suited Hanna Hipp was given an atmospheric Brief Encounter moment surrounded by tables and chairs to sing her poignant aria of regret and deep affection. Helen Nicholas (who played fortepiano continuo during L’élisir) made a good contribution here with some supportive and eloquent playing at the piano. Although there was some fine ensemble singing in the opening scene from Eugene Onegin – and despite the language they were singing in – this all seemed rather all more Home Counties than Russia and was the least successful part of the performance.
Finally there was some of Puccini’s La rondine performed on the set that was designed for it and its obvious opulence therefore came into its own as the Parisienne nightspot Bulliers. This late work from the composer is more operetta than opera and its passionate swelling melodies were given full value in a performance involving all nine singers – led by Dušica Bijelic (Lisette), Susana Gaspar (Magda) and Pablo Bemsch (Ruggero) – that ended the afternoon on a rapturously emotional highpoint.
Click here for more information about the Jette Parker Young Artist Programme .