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Reviews

The Jette Parker Young Artists for the 2014/15 season [Photo © ROH/Jay Brooks]
21 Jul 2015

Betrothal and Betrayal : JPYA at the ROH

The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.

Betrothal and Betrayal : Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance, Royal Opera House, London 18th July 2015

A review by Colin Clarke

The Jette Parker Young Artists for the 2014/15 season [Photo © ROH/Jay Brooks]

 

Having (quite) enjoyed the Verdi Falstaff given here recently, it was nice to hear the Overture to another Falstaff-inspired piece, the Overture to The Merry Wives of Windsor, well shaped by young conductor Jonathan Santagada (who will conduct Maxwell Davies’ The Lighthouse next season). It was a wonderful performance, full of mystery juxtaposed with sprightliness. Long, lyrical basslines sang magnificently, while shades of Mendelssohn (Midsummer Night’s Dream) were palpable.

That was not the only link to the recent Falstaff though. The brown wood panelling of Falstaff’s Windsor surprisingly reappeared in the Verdi Boccanegra excerpt. Anush Hovhannisyan was the Amelia Grimaldi, pure of voice but lacking in projection. Breaths in the centre of phrases and a not-quite-there mastery of Verdi’s technical challenges weighed down this Amelia; her Gabriele (Samuel Sakker) was better, if somewhat over-vibratoed. Yet he has a powerful voice, and when it opens out it is certainly impressive. The firm-toned James Platt was a confident Jacopo Fiesco.

The heart-on-sleeve music of Cilea provided the most extended section of the first part. Nelly Miricioiu (as the titular Adriana) still has stage presence, if not vocal beauty. Lowering the proscenium front enabled a deft transformation of space. Paul Wynne Griffiths, who had handled the orchestra well if not outstandingly in the Verdi, seemed more at home in Cilea’s musical world of sudden contrasts and long-arched melodies that need space to breathe. Sakker again impressed (as Abbé de Chazeuil), as did Yuriy Yurchuk as Michonnet. Maybe it was Jihoon Kim’s Prince de Bouillon that left the most indelible impression. Kim’s stage presence is almost as notable as his resonant voice. He does seem to have everything.

The second half was a Francophile’s dream. The Pearl Fishers remains a wonderful opera, even if heard through completely Bizet does rather over-work an admittedly fine musical idea. Costumes conjured up an exotic environment, even if the stage didn’t (wooden panels gave way to foliage). If the orchestral storm was rather muted under Michele Gamba (surprising, given his excellent Berio Folksongs at the Linbury in 2013), Samuel Dale-Johnson’s Zurga shone, vocally at least (a pity his acting is diametrically opposed to his singing); against him was the positively angelic Léila of Lauren Fagan. A solo aria to complement this: Rachel Kelly, somewhat bland and over-vibratoed in Marguerite’s “D’amour l’ardent flame”. A shame, given the vibrant writing from Berlioz.

Finally a bit of a rarity: Gounod’s take on Romeo and Juliet. A backdrop of stars suggested the key idea of “star-cross’d lovers”. Here it was the radiant Kiandra Howarth who shone, providing the most emotionally convincing singing of the afternoon. Luis Gomes was a well-chosen Romeo, his voice a pleasure to experience. Paul Wynne Griffiths brought forth real tenderness from the orchestra, as well as honouring the music’s lyric impulse. Perhaps the rather static staging lacked drama, but that was hardly a bar to enjoyment. A fascinating, and frequently special, concert.

Colin Clarke

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