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Reviews

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance 2018
16 Jul 2018

Summer madness and madcap high jinxs from the Jette Parker Young Artists

The operatic extracts which comprised this year’s Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance seemed to be joined by a connecting thread - madness: whether that was the mischievousness of Zerbinetta’s comedy troupe, the insanity of Tom Rakewell, the metaphysical distress of Hamlet, or the mayhem prompted by Isabella’s arrival at Mustafà’s Ottoman palace, the ‘insanity’ was equally compelling.

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance 2018

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Dominic Sedgwick (Haly), Gyula Nagy (Taddeo), Angela Simkin (Zulma), Haegee Lee (Elvira), Aigul Akhmetshina (Isabella), Simon Shibambu (Mustafà), Konu Kim as Lindoro

Photo credit: Clive Barda

 

Director Noa Naamat and lighting designer Nick Havell made the panelled oak walls which have been serving so effectively as both a 1950s country club and Windsor Forest during the current revival of Robert Carsen’s production of Verdi’s Shakespearean swansong , work surprising well as a theatre-within-a-theatre, a lunatic’s cell, a Queen’s inner chambers and the Mediterranean coast. Pendulous chandeliers, potted palms, and a silver pistol were a few of the minimal props that did good service. And, with bright penetrating colours and simple sets, moods, locales and dramatic tensions were deftly and pointedly established: the greens and purples which bathed the sleeping Ariadne, the blood red which tormented Rakewell in his dying moments before his ascent in the shimmering white clouds of the afterlife, the deep-sky blue which glistened with the sun’s gold behind the Bey’s terrace, all made a striking impression.

Conductor Sonia Ben-Santamaria was given the task of heralding the 2018 showcase, and though there were a few smudges in the opening fanfare from The Rake’s Progress the Orchestra of Opera North brass sound was bright and punchy, and the fanfare might have proved an efficient call-to-attention and curtain-raiser had it not been followed by the electronic tannoy reminder to switch off mobile ’phones and refrain from photography during the performance, rather dampening any excitement generated. And, the curtain was to stay firmly lowered for a little longer, during the overture to Offenbach’s La Belle Hélène, in which conductor Matthew Scott Rodgers conjured elegant and tasteful phrasing.

The show got underway with excerpts from Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos, though the task of establishing the context twice in quick succession, when we shifted from the conclusion of the Prologue to Ariadne’s first aria, not surprisingly proved challenging and the quick sequence of disparate numbers felt a little restless. As in Katharina Thoma’s Glyndebourne production , the commedia troupe were a barbershop quartet, skilled in soft shoe shuffles and adept at twirling a brollie, and their harmonies were sweet. Angela Simkin’s Composer hit the histrionic heights with aplomb and Haegee Lee’s Zerbinetta was a festoon of candy pink and vocally assured. Best of the bunch was Gyula Nagy’s Music Teacher, a poseur par excellence who nonchalantly smoked a cigarette through the Composer’s complaints and whose fore-curtain introduction to ‘Ariadne’ was a masterpiece of physical and vocal gesture.

Condemned to mental torment - and, in this production, self-harm - in the subsequent excerpt from Act 3 of The Rake’s Progress, Thomas Atkins’ Tom Rakewell nursed his Adonis-delusions with painful conviction. Atkins’ performance was one of the highlights of the showcase, and he was ably supported by Francesca Chiejina’s vocally sympathetic Anne Truelove and Simon Shibambu’s Father Truelove. The final ascent to the heavens was both poignant and transcendent: one could almost forget that any suggestion of ‘redemption’ is overturned by Stravinsky’s epilogue which reminds us that the devil makes work for idle hands.

Jacquelyn Stucker has made a strong impression during her first year as a JPYA, as Princess Azema in Semiramide and Frasquita in Barrie Kosky’s new Carmen ; she also won Second Prize in this year’s Glyndebourne Opera Cup. Here, her Ophélie - in the opening of Act 3 of Ambroise Thomas’s Hamlet - confirmed her accomplishment and stellar potential. Stucker sang with purity and colour, by turns and as required, and had plentiful stamina for the big vocal climaxes; but, more importantly, she really communicated Ophélie’s confusion, distress and emotional frailty while all the time sustaining vocal assurance and precision. Nagy returned as Hamlet, demonstrating that he can do existential frailty as well as entertaining farce; his fragmented ‘to be or not …’ monologue was consummately structured and projected. Simkin was a round-toned Gertrude while the earnestness of Shibambu’s prayer won a little sympathy for the murderous Claudius.

The best was saved till last. Attired in stunning scarlet, accessorised with designer clutch-bag and killer stilettos, Aigul Akhmetshina’s Isabella was a girl who knew her own mind and charms. Shibambu displayed a winning comic nous as the teased and tempted Bey Mustafà - tickled literally and figuratively by Isabella’s roving, fluttering fan. Haegee Lee’s emotionally wrought Elvira and Konu Kim’s hapless Lindoro threw themselves, and each other, back and forth across the wide stage, each determined to retain their loved one’s heart. The comic capers were manic, but expertly choreographed by movement director Jo Meredith, climaxing with a behind-the-plant-pot, now-you-see-me-now-you-don’t routine that was perfectly timed and flawlessly sung. Summer madness, indeed.

Claire Seymour

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance: Director - Noa Naamat, Lighting Designer - Nick Havell, Movement Director - Jo Meredith, Orchestra of Opera North.

Stravinsky: The Rake’s Progress, opening fanfare
Conductor: Sonia Ben-Santamaria

Offenbach: La Belle Hélène, Overture
Conductor: Matthew Scott Rogers

Strauss: excerpt from Ariadne auf Naxos
Echo - Francesca Chiejina, Zerbinetta - Haegee Lee, Prima Donna/Ariadne - Sarah-Jane Lewis, Dryad - Aigul Akhmetshina, Composer - Angela Simkin, Naiad - Jacquelyn Stucker, Scaramuccio - Thomas Atkins, Brighella - Konu Kim, Music Teacher - Gyula Nagy, Harlequin - Dominic Sedgwick, Truffaldino - Simon Shibambu; Conductor - Jac van Steen, Piano - Nick Fletcher, Celeste - Sonia Ben-Santamaria, Harmonium - James Hendry

Stravinsky: The Rake’s Progress, Act III, final scene
Anne Trulove - Francesca Chiejina, Tom Rakewell - Thomas Atkins, Father Trulove - Simon Shibambu; Conductor - Jac van Steen, Continuo - James Hendry

Thomas: Hamlet, Act III beginning
Ophélie - Jacquelyn Stucker, Gertrude - Angela Simkin, Hamlet - Gyula Nagy, Servant - Dominic Sedgwick, Claudius - Simon Shibambu; Conductor - James Hendry

Rossini: L’italiana in Algeri, Act I finale
Elvira - Haegee Lee, Isabella - Aigul Akhmetshina, Zulma - Angela Simkin, Lindoro - Konu Kim, Taddeo - Gyula Nagy, Haly - Dominic Sedgwick, Mustafa - Simon Shibambu; Conductor - Nick Fletcher

Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London; Sunday 15th July 2018.

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