A praiseworthy Opera Gala celebrates the Royal Northern College of Music’s fiftieth anniversary

United KingdomUnited Kingdom RNCM Opera Gala: Soloists, RNCM Opera Chorus, RNCM Professional Experience Scheme Students, Orchestra of Opera North (augmented by players from RNCM) / Garry Walker (conductor). Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, 28.6.2023. (MC)

Garry Walker conducts the Orchestra of Opera North (augmented by players from RNCM) © Roscoe Rutter

This Opera Gala concert was one of several events organised by the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM) to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of its opening. Here the RNCM was both collaborating and marking the professional partnership with the Orchestra of Opera North. I have been attending events at the RNCM for some forty years and was delighted to be a small part of this celebration.

The large audience was treated to concert performances of famous ensemble pieces from five renowned operas. The singers were a roster of eleven current RNCM students and fourteen vocal alumni. Conducting the Orchestra of Opera North was its music director Garry Walker, a former student of the RNCM. Fifteen college students took the opportunity to gain valuable performing experience by augmenting the orchestra ranks.

Curtain call for the RNCM Opera Gala © Roscoe Rutter

Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro, with its libretto written by Lorenzo Da Ponte contains a large number of ensembles which have an important function in maintaining the drama. From the Act II finale of Figaro standing out was Philip Smith as the philandering Count, a role benefiting from his first-class stage presence. With a secure, attractive and crystal-clear tone it was noticeable how the baritone’s voice projected so well through the hall. Adding to the drama, Georgie Malcolm as the Countess and her maid Susanna sung by Pasquale Orchard were clearly enjoying their roles.

My pick from the ensembles of the five operas were from the comic Falstaff (Act I, Scene 2 and Act III finale). For the score of Falstaff Verdi collaborated with Arrigo Boito who based his libretto after Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor and to a lesser degree Henry IV. Soprano Linda Richardson as Alice and bass-baritone Andrew Greenan as the lecherous Falstaff displayed their artistry with pleasing results. Soprano Soraya Mafi as Nannetta and tenor Alex Banfield as Fenton sang the lover’s duets with convincing expression and I must single out Mafi for the steadiness of her long held, high notes.

Richard Strauss’s romantic masterpiece Der Rosenkavalier, a nostalgic fantasy of eighteenth-century Vienna, employs a libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal. My highlight from the opera is the esteemed final act trio. Sung by soprano Rebecca von Lipinski (Marschallin), mezzo-soprano Carolina Krogius (Octavian, a trouser role) and soprano Anusha Bobby (Sophie) the trio certainly transmitted the tingle factor. Creditable too, Sophie and Octavian’s renowned young love duet was rendered with warmth and affection.

The Russian libretto to Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin was prepared by Tchaikovsky himself with assistance from Konstantin Shilovsky based on Alexander Pushkin’s verse novel of the same name. With its deeply affecting libretto Eugene Onegin is an opera I haven’t encountered too often in recent years. Sung here in English it was enjoyable to hear the chosen section from Act II, Scene 1, which is set at the party to celebrate Tatiana’s name day. As Onegin baritone Roland Wood and Lensky sung by tenor Christopher Turner were in notable form. Once again there were creditable contributions from Linda Richardson, such a fine actress, as heroine Tatyana.

In the much-admired overture Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg the orchestra began rather untidily, however matters of unity and intonation soon improved. Of the many solo orchestral contributions in the concert especially engaging were those by flute in Carmen and cor anglaise in Falstaff. With its beautiful yet challenging music the Der Rosenkavalier extract from Act III was played with fondness and splendid focus that I found most rewarding. A former student of the RNCM Kevin Thraves also serves as deputy head of opera and chorus master at the college. Around forty strong the RNCM Opera Chorus sounded terrific and Thraves must have been justly proud.

It was a pleasure to see the RNCM students gaining experience on their performing journey. In these famous opera ensemble pieces the students and both the experienced singers and orchestral musicians combined, achieving praiseworthy results.

Michael Cookson

Garry Walker – RNCM alumnus and music director of Opera North
Jonathan Cocker – Stage director and RNCM tutor in Stagecraft
Kevin Thraves – RNCM alumnus, deputy head of opera and chorus master

Soloists – Students and Alumni* from the RNCM School of Vocal Studies and Opera (listed below)

Works and Soloists:

Wagner  – Overture, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

Mozart – Le nozze di Figaro (Act II, Finale)
Philip Smith* – Count
Georgie Malcolm – Countess
Pasquale Orchard* – Susanna
Samuel Snowden* – Figaro
Callum McCandless – Antonio
Sarah Winn – Marcellina
Henry Strutt – Basilio
Andrew Greenan* – Bartolo

Richard Strauss – Der Rosenkavalier (Act III Trio and Duet)
Carolina Krogius* – Octavian
Rebecca von Lipinski* – Feldmarschallin
Anusha Bobby – Sophie
Philip Smith* – Faninal

Tchaikovsky – Eugene Onegin (Act II, Scene 1 – Mazurka, Scene, Finale)
Samuel Snowden* – Captain
Roland Wood* – Onegin
Christopher Turner* – Lensky
Linda Richardson* – Tatyana
Camilla Seale – Olga
Sarah Winn – Larina
RNCM Opera Chorus

Bizet  – Carmen (Act II Finale, Entr’acte, Act III Sextet and Chorus)
David Cane* – Zuniga
Christopher Turner* – Don José
Carolina Krogius* – Carmen
Yihui Wang – Le Remendado
Adam Jarman – Le Dancaïre
Hannah O’Brien – Frasquita
Kanchana Jaishankar – Mercédès
RNCM Opera Chorus

Verdi – Falstaff (Act I, Scene 2, Act III Finale)
Linda Richardson* – Alice Ford
Sarah Winn – Meg Page
Antonia Sotgiu* – Mistress Quickly
Soraya Mafi* – Nannetta
Gabriel Seawright* – Dr Cajus
Alex Banfield* – Fenton
Henry Strutt – Bardolfo
Jermyn Leong – Pistola
Roland Wood* – Ford
Andrew Greenan* – Falstaff
RNCM Opera Chorus

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