wed 13/12/2017

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance, Royal Opera review - vocal promise, poor stagecraft | reviews, news & interviews

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance, Royal Opera review - vocal promise, poor stagecraft

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance, Royal Opera review - vocal promise, poor stagecraft

Four standouts in a fine line-up which needed help with movements and gestures

Francesca Chiejina and Thomas Atkins in a scene from Mascagni's 'L'amico Fritz'All images by Clive Barda

They get to work with the best music and language coaches in the business. They make their mark in small parts throughout the Royal Opera season and showcase their art more prominently at the end of it, proving to the world that there are major talents among them (four outstanding ones, I reckon, on this showing). The big question mark is why, for this crucial event, the Jette Parker singers were saddled with one director, also on the Programme, and a movement co-ordinator who seem to have been little help with the interaction between characters, with feeling comfortable in their skins and not having to resort to stock gestures.

I’ll get over the carping and celebrate the abundant excellence of this year’s singers shortly. But take the opening excerpt, early Verdi at his original best in the opening scene of I due Foscari's second act. Only a solo viola and cello set the sombre mood, superbly taken by Royal Opera principals under the experienced guidance of David Syrus. Tenor David Junghoon Kim proved as idiomatic as they, Italianate to the life; we saw that his Jacopo Foscari is in prison, we heard that he’s terrorised by phantoms. But who was this woman in smart business wear and high heels, circling him like a potential Miss Whippy and keeping her distance until he finally rushes unconvincingly into her arms? Supposedly his faithful wife Lucrezia, deeply concerned for him, but you wouldn’t know it from the way the two (pictured below) ended up standing apart and waving their arms about in repetitive gestures. Only the fine singing of the long phrases in the final stretta allowed Vlada Borovko to escape from the straitjacket in which director Gerard Jones had placed her. He'd already made a dog's dinner of the vocally excellent Wilton's Handel Oreste, sub-student style; that should have set alarm bells ringing.

Scene from I due Foscari in the Jetter Parker Summer Programme

And so it went on, in one poorly-etched scene after another. The second, the tender love-duet of Cinderella and her Prince Charming at the ball of Massenet’s Cendrillon, had a surprisingly ill-at-ease Angela Simkin, whom I've heard sing so much better,  in the trousers role, a replacement for the unwell Emily Edmonds as the "unknown beauty", Kate Howden, and unidiomatic conducting from Matthew Scott Rogers. In what followed, three singers were truly at their ease – Nigerian-born American soprano Francesca Chiejina, radiant of facial expression and opulent of voice when needed opposite the equally stage-confident and vocally distinctive Thomas Atkins in a delicious little pastoral from Mascagni’s L’Amico Fritz, and Jennifer Davis, whom I’d already seen and heard excel alongside Atkins in this year's Europe Day Concert at St John’s Smith Square, amazing us with the ideal Straussian bloom at the top of the voice in the final scene of Arabella. Poor Gyula Nagy, as her Mr Right who’s gone and done everything wrong but is to be forgiven, had no help at all as the music of her staircase descent unfolded to an unseen slow entrance; Nagy's Mandryka was left to pace back and forth three times, to no effect, and vocally he didn't fit the part (it's essentially a bass-baritone rather than a baritone role). Amateurish blocking marred what should have been a very funny trio from Rossini’s Le comte Ory, too, though there was real promise in the crisp musical guidance of another Jette Parker Young Artist, repetiteur and conductor James Hendry.

Jennifer Davis and Gyula Nagy in Don Giovanni

With half the Second Act of Don Giovanni - from the great Sextet onwards - to conclude, we were on safer ground: known territory and an ideal sense of Mozartian pace and vitality from Syrus (having come straight from Haitink’s unsurpassable Mozart at the afternoon Prom, I was struck by the good fortune of getting his one-time sidekick at the Royal Opera as another ideal interpreter, and the singers must have been grateful, too). There wasn’t too much meddling with the arias. Davis’s "Mi tradi" (the soprano pictured above with Nagy) and Atkins’ "Il mio tesoro" were performances you’d be delighted to hear in a main Royal Opera production, very stylish, with excellent breath control, and dramatically firm; Borovko, less easy on stage, sang under the note in the slow section of "Non mi dir" but it was all there in essence - not easy in this fiendish aria - and she can manage the coloratura in the final sequence, unlike many Donna Annas I’ve heard.

Nagy seemed more in his element as Giovanni than as Mandryka; there had clearly been a lot of hard work on the Italian sparring with his Leporello, David Shipley. Jones G had clearly taken a leaf out of Jones R's playbook in a few touches; but the denouement still didn’t work. Much better the moral final ensemble, with the three singers from the Rossini scene – Chiejina, Simkin and Kim – incorporated to add lustre to a glamorous final line-up. All good enough to give hope for the future, and a pointer to at least four singers who have top-league careers ahead of them.

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