Live from Covent Garden showcases some impressive singers from the Jette Parker Young Artists Programme

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Various composers, Live from Covent Garden: Singers of the Jette Parker Young Artists Programme, Patrick Milne (harpsichord and piano), Edmund Whitehead (piano), soloists of the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House / Sir Antonio Pappano (conductor). Hosted by Katie Derham, streamed live and reviewed on 27.6.2020. (JPr)

Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha (soprano)

J.S. Bach – Concerto for Two Violins in D minor, BWV 1043: I. Vivace II. Largo ma non tanto – Vasko Vassilev and Sergey Levitin (violins), Patrick Milne (harpsichord)
Handel – ‘Where shall I fly?’ (Hercules) – Stephanie Wake-Edwards (Dejanira), Patrick Milne (harpsichord) and soloists of the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Mendelssohn – Piano Trio in D minor, Op.49, II. Andante con moto tranquillo – Vasko Vassilev (violin), Christopher Vanderspar (cello), Antonio Pappano (piano)
Rossini – ‘Ah! mi perdo mi confondo’ (L’Italiana in Algeri) – Blaise Malaba (Mustafa) and Filipe Manu (Lindoro), Edmund Whitehead (piano)
Donizetti – ‘Una furtiva lagrima’ (L’elisir d’amore) – Filipe Manu (Nemorino), Patrick Milne (piano) and soloists of the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Catalani – ‘Ebben? Ne andrò lontana’ (La Wally) – Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha (Wally), Edmund Whitehead (piano)
Leoncavallo – ‘Sei proprio tu che hai scritto ciò?’ (La bohème) – Stephanie Wake-Edwards (Musetta) and Filipe Manu (Marcello), Patrick Milne (piano)
Sorozábal – ‘No puede ser’ (La tabernera del puerto) – Andrés Presno (Leandro), Antonio Pappano (piano)
Gershwin – ‘Summertime’; ‘Bess, you is my woman now’ (Porgy and Bess) – Blaise Malaba (Porgy) and Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha (Bess), Antonio Pappano (piano)
Verdi – Brindisi ‘Libiamo ne’ lieti calici’ (La traviata) – Filipe Manu (Alfredo), Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha (Violetta), singers of JPYA Programme, Patrick Milne (piano) and soloists of the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House


Christopher Wheeldon’s Within the Golden Hour pas de deux – Mayara Magri and Matthew Ball. Music by Ezio Bosso.
Kenneth MacMillan’s Concerto – second movement pas de deux – Fumi Kaneko and Reece Clarke, Kate Shipway (piano) and soloists of the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House. Music by Dmitri Shostakovich.

And so farewell for the time being to Live at Covent Garden with their third concert being the most uplifting and leaving those watching with a sense of optimism that better times for the companies at the Royal Opera House are not as much of a distant dream as they once were. It was news to me when Kevin O’Hare, director of The Royal Ballet, revealed how on 14th July there will be a phased return of the company who will train for six weeks and then ‘see where we get to’. This announcement came after his earlier delight in seeing the dancers back on the stage ‘devouring the space and a stage they know so well and feel so comfortable in’. This follows three months of ‘Having been in their front rooms, their kitchens, doing their barres, their Pilates, their coaching’.

Nevertheless, after a rousing Brindisi from the Jette Parker Young Artists and a small ensemble, there was a deep sadness to see from behind all involved and then out into the gilded auditorium lit sufficiently to see all the seats that will remain unfilled for some time yet. The joy of this event was the delight in the faces of the young singers to be back on the Covent Garden stage and with one actually singing there for the first time. They, as well as their répétiteurs, are at various stages of a two-year programme but it was a pleasure to see and hear them. We witnessed some genuinely exciting new talent and Antonio Pappano (The Royal Opera’s music director) reminded those watching how the JPYA Programme is a ‘finishing school before they are let out into the cruel [opera] world’. Good luck to them all.

While this event had music from Bach and Mendelssohn – neither sung nor danced to – which was beautiful, profound, and elegiac in tone; overall, it was a cheerier occasion than the previous two Live from Covent Garden evenings. Katie Derham was a personable and knowledgeable host; yet while all-concerned did have interesting things to say, there was a little too much chitchat. Once again with so much goodwill involved – notwithstanding the evident laborious efforts needed to bring everyone together under the current ‘new normal’ – I cannot review this in the normal sense.

Let me say how exciting it was to be introduced to the five young singers all with (fingers crossed) wonderful careers ahead of them, but – as is likely in such situations – some made a better impression than others. British mezzo-soprano Stephanie Wake-Edwards excelled with her singing and acting during Handel’s ‘Where shall I fly?’ (from Hercules). Sung in English with perfect diction the subtitles we were shown were superfluous. Joyce DiDonato would approve of Wake-Edwards’s coloratura and mindful that no one wants to admit to being a contralto these days just listen to Wake-Edwards’s unmistakeable dark tones throughout; and noticeably during the concluding descending ‘From the pursuing furies of the mind!’.

Kevin O’Hare explained lack of available costumes meant both pas de deux – from couples in real life – would be presented in ‘simple dancewear’. However, Matthew Ball was the third bare-chested male dancer we had seen in these ballet excerpts and those coming new to this incredible art form would be forgiven for wondering whether it is always like this for the men. His pas de deux from Christopher Wheeldon’s Within the Golden Hour with Mayara Magri was dedicated to the composer Ezio Bosso who died earlier this year. To a haunting accompaniment featuring violinist Vasko Vassilev it was perfectly controlled and meltingly lyrical. (My colleague John O’Dwyer has more to say about the two pas de deux below).

Bass Blaise Malaba and tenor Filipe Manu found the quick-fire ‘Ah! mi perdo mi confondo’ from Rossini’s L’Italiana in Algeri a little bit of a challenge before Manu (a Tongan-New Zealander) showed his true potential in ‘Una furtiva lagrima’ (from Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore) which was delicately shaded and a fine display of direct emotion. This aria was also notable for Miriam Gussek’s ruminative bassoon. It had been fascinating to hear Malaba’s journey from the DR Congo – via Russia and the Ukraine – to the 2015 finals of the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition; ending up by joining the JPYA Programme this September and now singing on the Covent Garden stage for the first time. If that wasn’t enough Malaba studies singing in addition to International Economic Relations!

Catalani’s ‘Ebben? Ne andrò lontana’ (from La Wally) introduced us to soprano Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha just out of quarantine having come back from lockdown in South Africa. Wally bids farewell to the current love of her life. In my notes I wrote ‘What a voice!’ and will add little more than how Rangwanasha’s singing was impassioned and full of yearning regret.

I think Leoncavallo’s La bohème is better than the duet ‘Sei proprio tu che hai scritto ciò?’ would lead us to believe. Stephanie Wake- Edwards (Musetta) and Filipe Manu (Marcello) did their best, but Puccini would have been a better showcase for them.

It was time for the second ballet excerpt: a pas de deux from Kenneth MacMillan’s Concerto, to the slow second movement from Shostakovich’s Second Piano Concerto. Kate Shipway’s piano was subdued and romantic and what we saw from Fumi Kaneko and Reece Clarke had moments of stillness, poise, and grace. There were some exquisite balances with Clarke deferring to his partner (as her ‘barre’ apparently!) and doing little but lift and support her (though thankfully he had found a vest!). Both had danced this pas de deux before but not with each other.

Uruguayan tenor Andrés Presno sang some zarzuela with passion – Sorozábal’s ‘No puede ser’ from La tabernera del puerto – and Antonio Pappano gave him great support at the piano; as young JPYA accompanists Patrick Milne and Edmund Whitehead did elsewhere in the programme for other singers.

With Pappano still at the piano, Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha impressed again with a most radiant ‘Summertime’ (from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess) before being joined by Malaba for the ardent love duet ‘Bess, you is my woman now’.

All five singers and most of the musicians then (literally) brought the lights back on the Covent Garden stage with Verdi’s rousing and celebratory Brindisi from La traviata with Manu and Rangwanasha taking the lead and raising an imaginary glass of champagne to an empty Royal Opera House. When will I be back there myself, who knows, not anytime soon it seems?

Jim Pritchard

For more about the Royal Opera House’s #OurHouseToYourHouse series click here.

From John O’Dwyer

For the third and final Live from Covent Garden ‘real life’ couples Mayara Magri and Matthew Ball, Fumi Kaneko and Reece Clarke, performed not live but pre-recorded pas de deux by Christopher Wheeldon and Kenneth MacMillan packaged between interviews with Kevin O’Hare, director of The Royal Ballet, and with the dancers themselves.

At its premiere in 2016, the dancers of Wheeldon’s Within the Golden Hour seemed to be wearing dish cloths. For its revival last year, the piece was danced in new costumes of a diaphanous fabric spotted with gold. ‘Safety reasons’ mean that The Royal Ballet currently has no access to its wardrobe department. Both the Wheeldon and the MacMillan were performed in what Kevin O’Hare described as ‘dancewear’.

Matthew Ball and Mayara Magri in Within the Golden Hour

Christopher Wheeldon’s choreography is often, as if intentionally, a choreography of knees and elbows and ankles. But at its premiere, when it was performed by Beatrix Stix-Brunell and Vadim Muntagirov, this pas de deux to the soulful strings of Ezio Bosso had lines that were more lyrical, more fluid. Mayara Magri and Matthew Ball appear to perform it faultlessly. Despite the sustained pliés by both dancers at the same time, and the cantilevered complexity which allows Mayara Magri to lean out into thin air, the overall impression is of lyrical and fluid movement that leads to a final, restful, stillness.

The pas de deux taken from Kenneth MacMillan’s Concerto (1966) is, in contrast, a much simpler, much more ‘classical’ affair. In the programme notes to Kenneth MacMillan: A National Celebration at the Royal Opera House in 2017, Zoë Anderson explains that the inspiration for it came as Kenneth MacMillan watched Lynn Seymour warming up for rehearsal at the barre. The woman’s partner becomes the barre.

When you see this pas de deux on the stage, it seems to be as much about the space, the air, between the dancers as it is about what they do. On a screen, that dimension is lost. You can only note the dancers’ upright, even stately, positions and the closer relationship, than in the Wheeldon, between movement and music (by Shostakovich), a relationship most strongly felt in Fumi Kaneko’s port de bras. As her partner, Reece Clarke stands behind her, kneels in front of her, supports her, and, most strikingly, lifts her with consummate ease.

John O’Dwyer

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