Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Two song cycles by Sir Arthur Somervell: Roderick Williams and Susie Allan

Robert Browning, Lord Alfred Tennyson, Charles Kingsley, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, A.E. Housman … the list of those whose work Sir Arthur Somervell (1863-1937) set to music, in his five song-cycles, reads like a roll call of Victorian poetry - excepting the Edwardian Housman.

Roger Quilter: The Complete Quilter Songbook, Vol. 3

Mark Stone and Stephen Barlow present Volume 3 in their series The Complete Roger Quilter Songbook, on Stone Records.

Richard Danielpour – The Passion of Yeshua

A contemporary telling of the Passion story which uses texts from both the Christian and the Jewish traditions to create a very different viewpoint.

Les Talens Lyriques: 18th-century Neapolitan sacred works

In 1770, during an extended tour of France and Italy to observe the ‘present state of music’ in those two countries, the English historian, critic and composer Charles Burney spent a month in Naples - a city which he noted (in The Present State of Music in France and Italy (1771)) ‘has so long been regarded as the centre of harmony, and the fountain from whence genius, taste, and learning, have flowed to every other part of Europe.’

Herbert Howells: Missa Sabrinensis revealed in its true glory

At last, Herbert Howells’s Missa Sabrinensis (1954) with David Hill conducting the Bach Choir, with whom David Willcocks performed the piece at the Royal Festival Hall in 1982. Willcocks commissioned this Mass for the Three Choirs Festival in Worcester in 1954, when Howells himself conducted the premiere.

Natalya Romaniw - Arion: Voyage of a Slavic Soul

Sailing home to Corinth, bearing treasures won in a music competition, the mythic Greek bard, Arion, found his golden prize coveted by pirates and his life in danger.

Le Banquet Céleste: Stradella's San Giovanni Battista

The life of Alessandro Stradella was characterised by turbulence, adventure and amorous escapades worthy of an opera libretto. Indeed, at least seven composers have turned episodes from the 17th-century Italian composer’s colourful life into operatic form, the best known being Flotow whose three-act comic opera based on the Lothario’s misadventures was first staged in Hamburg in 1844.

Purcell’s The Indian Queen from Lille

Among the few compensations opera lovers have had from the COVID crisis is the abundance – alas, plethora – of streamed opera productions we might never have seen or even known of without it.

Ethel Smyth: Songs and Ballads - a new recording from SOMM

In 1877, Ethel Smyth, aged just nineteen, travelled to Leipzig to begin her studies at the German town’s Music Conservatory, having finally worn down the resistance of her father, General J.H. Smyth.

Wagner: Excerpts from Der Ring des Niebelungen, NHK Symphony Orchestra, Paavo Järvi, RCA-Sony

This new recording of excerpts from Wagner’s Der Ring des Niebelungen is quite exceptional - and very unusual for this kind of disc. The words might be missing, but the fact they are proves to have rather the opposite effect. It is one of the most operatic of orchestral Wagner discs I have come across.

Wagner: Die Walküre, Symphonieorchester Des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Simon Rattle, BR Klassik

Simon Rattle has never particularly struck me as a complex conductor. He is not, for example, like Furtwängler, Maderna, Boulez or Sinopoli - all of whom brought a breadth of learning and a knowledge of composition to bear on what they conducted.

Dvořák Requiem, Jakub Hrůša in memoriam Jiří Bělohlávek

Antonín Dvořák Requiem op.89 (1890) with Jakub Hrůša conducting the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. The Requiem was one of the last concerts Jiří Bělohlávek conducted before his death and he had been planning to record it as part of his outstanding series for Decca.

Philip Venables' Denis & Katya: teenage suicide and audience complicity

As an opera composer, Philip Venables writes works quite unlike those of many of his contemporaries. They may not even be operas at all, at least in the conventional sense - and Denis & Katya, the most recent of his two operas, moves even further away from this standard. But what Denis & Katya and his earlier work, 4.48 Psychosis, have in common is that they are both small, compact forces which spiral into extraordinarily powerful and explosive events.

A new, blank-canvas Figaro at English National Opera

Making his main stage debut at ENO with this new production of The Marriage of Figaro, theatre director Joe Hill-Gibbins professes to have found it difficult to ‘develop a conceptual framework for the production to inhabit’.

Massenet’s Chérubin charms at Royal Academy Opera

“Non so più cosa son, cosa faccio … Now I’m fire, now I’m ice, any woman makes me change colour, any woman makes me quiver.”

Bluebeard’s Castle, Munich

Last year the world’s opera companies presented only nine staged runs of Béla Bartòk’s Bluebeard’s Castle.

The Queen of Spades at Lyric Opera of Chicago

If obsession is key to understanding the dramatic and musical fabric of Tchaikovsky’s opera The Queen of Spades, the current production at Lyric Opera of Chicago succeeds admirably in portraying such aspects of the human psyche.

WNO revival of Carmen in Cardiff

Unveiled by Welsh National Opera last autumn, this Carmen is now in its first revival. Original director Jo Davies has abandoned picture postcard Spain and sun-drenched vistas for images of grey, urban squalor somewhere in modern-day Latin America.

Lise Davidsen 'rescues' Tobias Kratzer's Fidelio at the Royal Opera House

Making Fidelio - Beethoven’s paean to liberty, constancy and fidelity - an emblem of the republican spirit of the French Revolution is unproblematic, despite the opera's censor-driven ‘Spanish’ setting.

A sunny, insouciant Così from English Touring Opera

Beach balls and parasols. Strolls along the strand. Cocktails on the terrace. Laura Attridge’s new production of Così fan tutte which opened English Touring Opera’s 2020 spring tour at the Hackney Empire, is a sunny, insouciant and often downright silly affair.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

JPYA Summer Performance, Royal Opera House
18 Jul 2017

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at Covent Garden

The end of the ROH’s summer season was marked as usual by the Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance but this year’s showcase was a little lacklustre at times.

JPYA Summer Performance, Royal Opera House

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: David Junghoon Kim, Francesca Chiejina and Angela Simkin in a scene from Comte Ory

Photo credit: Clive Barda

 

There are plenty of ‘on-a-budget’ opera companies who regularly show that a lot can be made of not very much, so the scanty set and properties in the first-half sequence - a few chairs and tables, a dozen champagne glasses, a bucket of cherries - were not in themselves a problem. Matthew Mulberry’s lighting design was economical and effective. The Byronic gloom of Jacopo Foscari’s prison cell was effectively conjured by a single hanging lamp; Prince Charmant’s palace bathed in a pink glow, while a cooler blue illumed Arabella’s fraught exchange with Mandrynka.

The direction, however, was minimal and too often the singers seemed to be ‘hanging about’ wondering where to move next, singing straight to the house, or into the wings or back-cloth, rather than at or to each other, even though each of the first-half items presents an intimate, charged exchange. The diction was also, generally, poor with almost no discernible distinction between Italian and French.

DAVID JUNGHOON KIM, VLADA BOROVKO (C) ROH. PHOTO BY CLIVE BARDA.jpg David Junghoon Kim and Vlada Borovko. Photo credit: Clive Barda.

Fortunately, there were several names that have become well-known over the last year or two from their performances in minor roles in the House, and engagements elsewhere, and their appearances in more substantial fare were eagerly anticipated. Opening the programme with the Act II duet from Verdi’s I due Foscari, Vlada Borovko confirmed my previous impression (not least in last year’s JPYA performance and most recently in the ROH’s L'elisir d'amore ) that she is a soprano of dramatic power and commanding presence, well equipped to master Verdi’s surging vocal lines. She was a stirring Lucrezia, comforting David Junghoon Kim’s Foscari when he learns of his exile and conveying the full fierceness of Lucrezia’s love for her husband and fiery scorn for the scheming clique, the Council of Ten. Later, when the ensemble came together for the end of Act 2 of Don Giovanni, Borovko displayed similar concentration and intensity in Donna Anna’s ‘Non mi dir’.

Junghoon Kim’s acting has improved markedly during his time as a JPYA - as his recent engagement with Grange Park Opera confirmed - and here he was convincing as the tortured Foscari who is being tormented by delirious visions of the ghost of the decapitated mercenary, Carmagnola. He sang with clean, appealing tone, though he might have employed a wider dynamic range.

The tenor hasn’t yet quite got the refinement that Rossini’s music calls for and he seemed less comfortable decked up in habit and wimple as ‘Sister Colette’ - the disguised Count Ory who falls into the trap set for him by his page, Isolier, and finds himself in a darkened bedroom making advances to the latter rather than the object of his unwelcome affections, Countess Adèle. Comic timing is not Junghoon Kim’s forte, and it didn’t help that the staging of this trio - which Berlioz described as the composer’s ‘absolute masterpiece’ - lacked a certain jeu d’esprit, the only (mild) chuckles coming from the somewhat clichéd wriggling under the duvet and climbing under the bed.

The trio of singers didn’t ‘play off’ one another with sufficient zip, and conductor James Hendry let the tempo lag, failing to show how the orchestral rhythms point up the dramatic charm and wit. The enunciation of the French text was weak, but there was some attractive singing from Angela Simkin whom I admired in the title role of Oreste at Wilton’s Music Hall in 2016, and who displayed a firm technique and vocal gleam as Isolier. This followed her stylish appearance as Prince Charmant in Massenet’s love-at-first-sight duet, ‘Toi qui m’es apparue’, alongside Kate Howden’s Cendrillon. Howden, standing in at short notice for the indisposed Emily Edmonds, did well to shape Massenet’s lines with simple elegance. She coped well at the top and her fresh sound blended pleasingly with Simkin’s slightly fuller mezzo.

Cendrillon (C) ROH. PHOTO BY CLIVE BARDA.jpg Cendrillon. Photo credit: Clive Barda.

Soprano Francesca Chiejina was the third of Rossini’s comic threesome but she needed rather more vocal presence to communicate Adèle’s impish sense of fun. Chiejina had appeared a little tentative in her earlier guise as Suzel in the ‘Cherry Duet’ from L’amico Fritz - another comic gem which fell rather flat, missing the sparkle which imbues Mascagni’s trifling operetta - and her intonation strayed a little at the start. She has a sweet tone but doesn’t always project with enough dramatic vigour. As Fritz, Thomas Atkins did impress, however. Atkins studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and when I heard him sing Florindo in the 2015 production of Wolf-Ferrari’s Le donne curiose I remarked his ‘incipient Italianate gleam’, a quality which has now bloomed nicely. His ‘Il mio tesoro’ in the post-interval Don Giovanni episode was the highlight of the evening, revealing a well-supported lyric tenor and an ability to imbue a character who can seem weak-willed and ineffectual with convincing strength and integrity.

FRANCESCA CHIEJINA, THOMAS ATKINS   (C) ROH. PHOTO BY CLIVE BARDA.jpg Francesca Chiejina and Thomas Atkins. Photo credit: Clive Barda.

The other first-half item was the final duet from Strauss’s Arabella. As ever with Strauss, the writing lies quite high and Jennifer Davis, as the eponymous aristocrat, scaled the peaks but could not colour them with the requisite silvery tone, and this deprived this exquisite reconciliation scene of its transcendence. A similar heft, and tonal hardness, was apparent in Elvira’s ‘Mi Tradì’.

GYULA NAGY, JENNIFER DAVIS  (C) ROH. PHOTO BY CLIVE BARDA.jpg Jennifer Davis and Gyula Nagy. Photo credit: Clive Barda.

Perhaps it’s hard to invest the foolish Mandryka with any real credibility but Hungarian baritone Gyula Nagy needed a bit more focus to supplement the warmth of his sound in order to capture the dignity of the close. The absence of a staircase down which Arabella famously glides to her lover - to make the formalised gesture of offering the glass of water that signals her willingness to be her betrothed’s wife - was understandable and forgivable; what was less acceptable, however, was the lack of any convincing engagement between the reunited lovers.

Director Gerard Jones had put more thought and effort into the staging of the final scenes of Don Giovanni, and it paid off, as the simple set - a white-walled chapel where the Commendatore’s ebony coffin served as an unavoidable reminder of the Don’s dastardly deeds and impending doom - brought the singers together with more dramatic involvement and integration. Haegee Lee, who joins the JPYA scheme next season, took the role of Zerlina - intended for Edmonds and acted by Alicia Frost - singing from the side and revealing a good sense of Mozartian style which bodes well for her appearance as Papagena in the ROH’s new staging of Die Zauberflöte, directed by David McVicar, in the autumn. Simon Shibambu was a stentorian Commendatore but softened his tone effectively when doubling up as Masetto. Gyula Nagy was a fittingly disreputable Giovanni, and interacted well with David Shipley’s rich-hued Leporello.

SIMON SHIBAMBU  (C) ROH. PHOTO BY CLIVE BARDA.jpg Simon Shibambu and Gyula Nagy. Photo credit: Clive Barda.

This staging gave Don Giovanni the last laugh. After the moralising finale and departure of the ‘victors’, the coffin in which Giovanni had been entombed raised its lid, and the chancer seized his opportunity, scampering off with a look which hinted, ‘I’ll be back’. So, too, will many of these young singers in the forthcoming ROH season, alongside six new Young Artists: Haegee Lee and fellow soprano Jacquelyn Stucker, mezzo-soprano Aigul Akhmetshina, tenor Konu Kim, baritone Dominic Sedgwick and stage director Noa Naamat.

Further details of the ROH autumn season can be found at http://www.roh.org.uk/seasons/2017-18/autumn .

Claire Seymour

Verdi: I due Foscari, Act II (duet)
Conductor - David Syrus; Lucrezia Contarini - Vlada Borovko, Jacopo Foscari - David Junghoon Kim,

Massenet: Cendrillon, Act II (duet - ‘Toi qui m’es apparue’)
Conductor - Matthew Scott Rogers, Cendrillon - Kate Howden, Prince - Angela Simkin

Mascagni: L’amico Fritz, Act I (duet)
Conductor: David Syrus, Suzel - Francesca Chiejina, Fritz - Thomas Atkins

Strauss: Arabella, Act III (final duet)
Conductor - David Syrus, Arabella - Jennifer Davis, Mandryka - Gyula Nagy

Rossini: Le Comte Ory, Act II (‘A la faveur de cette nuit obscure’)
Conductor - James Hendry, Countess Adèle de Formoutiers - Francesca Chiejina, Isolier - Angela Simkin, Count Ory - David Junghoon Kim

Mozart: Don Giovanni, Act II
Conductor - David Syrus, Fortepiano continuo - Nick Fletcher, Donna Anna - Vlada Borovko, Donna Elvira - Jennifer Davis, Zerlina - Haegee Lee, Don Ottavio - Thomas Atkins,Don Giovanni - Gyula Nagy, Leporello - David Shipley, Masetto/Commendatore - Simon Shibambu, Ensemble - Francesca Chiejina, Angela Simkin, David Junghoon Kim.

Director - Gerard Jones, Lighting designer - Matthew Mulberry, Movement - Anjali Mehra.

Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London; Sunday 16th July 2017.

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):