The afternoon’s performance fell somewhere between an extended amuse bouche and a compact smorgasbord that featured two helpings of Mozart, two also of Donizetti and single extended samplings of both Tchaikovsky and Puccini to round out the palette of flavours on offer. The occasion provided an opportunity for many of the singers to bring to the stage roles that they have covered throughout main productions during the past season. It also provided the Programme’s stage director, Pedro Ribeiro, with the challenge of utilising the set for the production of La rondine, in situ from its final stage rehearsals, to provide credible settings for the action, and providing one was willing to stretch one’s imagination on a couple of occasions, he achieved his goal.
Paul Wingfield, a Jette Parker Programme participant since last year, conducted a sonorous account of Mozart’s overture to Die Zauberflöte, which conveyed a sense of drama through its well chosen tempi and forward balance of both brass and timpani. During the overture, the curtain rose and a précis introduction of the drama preceding the sung extract from Act I was silently enacted. Michel de Souza proved an entertaining and jocular Papageno, whilst David Butt Philip’s Tamino was a clear and resonant contrast to Dušica Bijelić’s spirited Pamina. Pablo Bemsch lent more to the role of Monostatos with his acting than in vocal terms, whilst the three ladies of Susana Gaspar, Hanna Hipp and Justina Gringyte maintained the mystery of their veiled appearance but projected their lines with ease.
After barely a moment’s pause, The Royal Opera’s Head of Music David Syrus took to the podium to lead a pair of duets from Donizetti operas with assured accompaniment from the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House. In the confrontation between Giovanna Seymour and King Enrico from Act I of Anna Bolena, Justina Gringyte acted the role of the anxious Seymour convincingly, although when pressed in fortissimo passages her tone became a little uneven, showing that perhaps the role is not yet fully within her grasp. That said, her assumption of the role sat squarely within the bel canto performance tradition that can see vocalise as merely one aspect of the whole character. As the King, Jihoon Kim utilised the reserves of his bass voice well to command a presence. His acting showed a different aspect of character, with a realisation of the predicament Enrico is placed in by the demands of Seymour and Anna Bolena, the other suitor for his affection.
The switch from bel canto high drama to the more tender and humorous aspect of love left almost unspoken was made within an extract from Act II of L’elisir d’amore. Pablo Bemsch’s pliant yet slightly tight tenor tone proved ideally suited to the role of Nemorino, earning deserved applause for the sensitivity of feeling that he brought to ‘Una furtiva lagrima’. Fresh from representing Portugal in the recent BBC Cardiff Singer of the World, Susana Gaspar was a winsome Adina, coquettish and quick of flirtatious inference in her cleanly articulated singing as also with her gestures and sideways glances to Nemorino. Together, Bemsch and Gaspar proved a well-matched vocal pairing.
Polish mezzo-soprano Hanna Hipp took centre-stage in Mozart’s concert aria ‘Chi’o mi scordi di te’, originally written for Nancy Storace, who created Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro. Her rich timbre, supported by careful vocal control, effectively caught the inference of farewell that runs throughout the text. Ribero’s stage direction might have almost made it a film noir tableau, transferring the action to a scene in a 1940s cafe with the singer nostalgically wishing an absent love farewell before a long journey. The continuo piano part was stylishly played by Helen Nicholas, who would do well to continue her experience in working with singers as a complement to her work throughout the Programme with The Royal Ballet.
Act I, scene one of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin was given in its entirety, conducted with much feeling by Michele Gamba. Although scenically the intended rusticity of a countryside Russian estate was somewhat remote from the marble-clad set, James Simpson’s lighting design lent the scene an appropriately airy atmosphere. Justina Gringyte brought a light-touch sense of motherliness to the role of Madame Larina, whilst keeping a watchful eye over her daughters Tatyana and Olga, sung respectively by Bosnian-born soprano Dušica Bijelic and Hanna Hipp. With sisterly relations believably established during their folk song duet, Bijelic’s initial reticence of character warmed appreciably with the entrance of Onegin, whose mien of thinly veiled sufferance for Lensky’s liking of the surroundings was effortlessly conveyed in the superior arrogance of Ashley Riches’ portrayal. It said much for the success of this scene that I wished to see the quartet of main characters continue with their roles, with Pablo Bemsch’s Lensky showing much promise. Hopefully, a future full production awaits them.
Part of Act II of Puccini’s La rondine brought the afternoon to a fitting conclusion that saw all the singers together under David Syrus’s expert baton. To an equal degree, style and taste imbued the singing to make one look forward to the full production of Puccini’s little rarity opening in under a week’s time. What is more these young artists seemed not the least daunted by the fact that some of opera’s starriest names would shortly be heard in their roles, such was the palpable dedication to the performance. Susana Gaspar might yet give Angela Gheorghiu a run for her money as Magda in years to come.
Since their inception, the summer performances by the Jette Parker Young Artists have seen some wonderful emerging talents take to the Covent Garden stage in their journey en route to greater things. It is worth recalling some particular successes, with alumni singers Pumeza Matshikiza, Simona Mihai, Eri Nakamura, Marina Poplavskaya, Ekaterina Gubanova, Andrew Kennedy, Jacques Imbrailo, Vuyani Mlinde and conductor Rory Macdonald being amongst those who have impressed me most, now all having established major international careers. There’s little doubt that a few more from this year’s concert can be added to that list as well, and my anticipation is already whetted for when Anush Hovhannisyan and Nadezhda Karyazina join the Programme in a few months time.