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Reviews

22 Jul 2019

The 2019 Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance

This year’s Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance offered a veritable operatic smörgåsbord, presenting sizable excerpts from operas ranging from Gluck to Saint-Saëns, from Mozart to Debussy, by way of some Italian masterpieces, courtesy of Rossini and Verdi.

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance 2019

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Jacquelyn Stucker (Euridice) and Patrick Terry (Orfeo)

(C) ROH 2019. Photo by Clive Barda

 

One only has to hear the first few notes of the fiddlers’ wriggle which opens the overture to Le nozze di Figaro for one’s toes to start tapping and one’s ears to jump to attention, so beginning the programme with the overture and first three numbers from Mozart’s opera was a sensible choice which got proceedings underway slickly. Thomas Payne - the first of the performance’s four conductors - led the ROH Orchestra through a light-footed rendition of the opera which, with the pianissimo strings tingling and buzzing, whipped up some energy for the entrance of Michael Mofidian’s Figaro, confidently surveying his domain and energetically waggling a tape-measure.

Michael Mofidian and Yaritza Véliz.jpgMichael Mofidian (Figaro) and Yaritza Véliz (Susanna) (C) ROH 2019. Photo by Clive Barda.

The Scottish-Iranian bass-baritone and Yaritza Véliz developed a good rapport during ‘Se a caso madama’, as the Chilean soprano used her sparkling tone - and a shocking-pink frock - to distract the self-absorbed Figaro from his bed-measuring chores, though given the cavernous nature of the soon-to-be-weds’ baroque ‘garret’ it didn’t seem likely that the removers would have any difficulty squeezing in the Count’s nuptial gift. A little of the momentum built up was diffused by the rather slow tempo of Figaro’s ensuing ‘Se vuol ballare’ though Mofidian sang with characteristic precision and control.

The lovely richness of his bass-baritone was showed off to better effect, though, in the closing moments of the Tower Scene from Pelléas and Mélisande, when Golaud entered to scold his wife for behaving so childishly with Pelléas. Golaud’s reflectiveness resonated beautifully - there was a hint of menace, but also vulnerability - and it was good to hear a more youthful voice in the role than is often the case, bringing the half-brothers closer together in age. I had had my doubts about the wisdom of selecting this scene to end the first half of the programme: Figaro may start ‘in media res’, but I feared that it would be a challenge to establish a credible and absorbing theatrical and music ‘ambience’ by extracting a ‘slice’ from Debussy’s dreamy, otherworldly opera. But, I was proved wrong by Noa Naamat’s thoughtful direction of Hongni Wu, and by the freshness and anticipation which the Chinese mezzo-soprano conjured as she draped herself across the window ledge of the ‘tower’ and stretched down to the garden below. The soprano’s initial unaccompanied phrases were as silken as her long tresses confirming that impressive vocal presence that she displayed in Naamat’s recent production of Henze’s Phaedra in the Linbury Theatre. Wu conveyed fairytale-like mystery while never over-gesticulating, while the lightness of British baritone Dominic Sedgewick’s upper range helped to evoke Pelléas’s earnest naivety and fascination. As Sedgewick wrapped himself in Mélisande’s hair, conductor Patrick Milne summoned exquisite nocturnal glitterings and surges from the ROH Orchestra, but the enveloping sensuousness of the moment remained innocent, almost playful. Billy Slocombe’s lighting of this scene contributed enormously to its enchantment, magenta and blue softly darkening to highlight the dusky pink moon.

Hongni Wu and Dominic Sedgwick.jpg Hongni Wu (Mélisande) and Dominic Sedgwick (Pelléas) (C) ROH 2019. Photo by Clive Barda.

The Act 2 aria and duet from Saint-Saëns’s Samson et Dalila was lit with similarly striking effect, though here monochrome chiaroscuro effects splashed with red were the order of the day, creating a tense locale. Russian mezzo-soprano Aigul Akhmetshina relished the long melismatic legato lines of Dalila’s ‘Amour! viens aider ma faiblesse’, easily encompassing the extensive range as she luxuriated on a black leather couch and wallowed in the seductiveness which she knows will overcome Samson’s strength, richly supported by the ROH Orchestra under James Hendry.

As the High Priest of Dagon, who urges Dalila to use her charms to destroy Samson whose Hebrew followers have just conquered the Philistines, Argentinean baritone Germán E. Alcántara sang confidently but was a little overshadowed by Akhemtshina’s vibrant and luscious-voiced femme fatale. I found Naamat’s direction a little too stylised in this scene - did the High Priest really need to whip out a gun from beneath his black jacket, like a stock-villain? Similarly, in the Act II temporale and trio from Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia the singers seemed to be working too hard to engender some comedy; as Almaviva and Rosina relished their planned elopement, urged on by the impatient Figaro, the gestures were as lacking in subtlety as the primary colour costumes. Undoubtedly, the exaggerated quasi-farce effect was intended, but if you’re trying hard to be funny then you probably won’t be. Wu and Sedgwick were pleasingly reunited as Rosina and Figaro, though, while Thando Mjandana, a South African tenor participating in the Link Artist Scheme , was a suave Count.

Aigul Akhmetshina (Dalila).jpgAigul Akhmetshina (Dalila) (C) ROH 2019. Photo by Clive Barda.

An excerpt from Act 1 of Verdi’s Rigoletto was considerably elevated by South Korean soprano Haegee Lee’s terrific rendition of Gilda’s ‘Caro nome’. This was a measured and confidently crafted performance which communicated character and feeling most impressively. Her compatriot Konu Kim was an animated and lithe-voiced Duke of Mantua, Akhmetshina returned to imbue Giovanna’s melodies with warmth, while Mjandana (Borsa) was joined by fellow South African Chuma Sijeqa, also a Link Artist, whose appearance as Rigoletto may have been brief but who made an immediate and strong mark. Verdi rounded things off when the full complement of 2018-19 JPYAs joined together for a rather confusing front-of-curtain performance of the fugal finale of Act 3 of Falstaff, which made up for any lack of theatrical clarity with a generous helping of obvious, and engaging, joie de vivre.

The best singing of the night, for this listener at least, came earlier in the evening when the first JPYA countertenor, Patrick Terry, and American soprano Jacquelyn Stucker performed Orfeo’s tragic submission to Euridice’s desperate pleas, as depicted by Gluck in Act 3 of Orfeo ed Euridice. Again, I found Naamat’s direction a little stylised - too much hand-wringing, head-clutching, tree-hugging for my liking - but the establishment of the scene’s emotional tenor was accomplished, and again aided by Slocombe’s lighting designs which turn soft grey to blood red and then, when Véliz’s Amore had restored life, love and liberty, returned through orange to a golden glow of joy. Stucker communicated every atom of Euridice’s confusion, anger, passion and despair, in ‘Che fiero momento … Fortune ennemie’, and so fiercely emotive and vocally compelling was this grand lament that it was no wonder that Terry could resist her pleading no longer before giving in to his own outpouring of grief, ‘Che farò senza Euridice?’, which was no less powerful.

Claire Seymour

Conductors: James Hendry, Patrick Milne, Thomas Payne, Edmund Whitehead; Sopranos: Haegee Lee, Jacquelyn Stucker, Yaritza Véliz; Mezzo-sopranos: Aigul Akhmetshina, Hongni Wu: Counter-tenor: Patrick Terry; Tenors: Konu Kim, Thando Mjandana: Baritones: Germán E. Alcántara, Dominic Sedgwick, Chuma Sijeqa: Bass baritone: Michael Mofidian; Orchestra of the Royal Opera House.

Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London; Sunday 21st July 2019.

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