As the big opera houses begin to empty for the summer, their stages provide the perfect platform for young up-and-coming performers to showcase their talents. This year’s Jette Parker Young Artists Programme summer performance at the Royal Opera House offered audiences a first glimpse at the stars of the future.
The programme featured three sizeable excerpts from Mozart’s Don Giovanni, and Massenet’s Werther and Manon. Ten singers took centre stage, with three conductors passing the baton over the forces of the Orchestra of Welsh National Opera.
The first half consisted of most of Act I of Don Giovanni. The staging by Thomas Guthrie wisely steered clear of theatrical clutter. Singers appeared on a bare stage dressed mostly in white 1920s/30s-style costumes, except for the wicked Don and sidekick Leporello who, predictably, wore black. Kostas Smoriginas as Giovanni struck a youthful yet commanding presence. His voice displayed richness and sensitivity, although it could have done with a little more projection. Vuyani Mlinde as Leporello proved to be a hit with the audience. He carried the role with real humour and wit, and his resonant bass deftly rattled through the ‘catalogue’ aria to great effect.
Anita Watson was less convincing as Donna Anna. Rather whiny and limp, she was partnered by an equally anodyne Don Ottavio in Robert Anthony Gardiner. One name to watch out for, however, was Pumeza Matshikiza as a feisty Donna Elvira. Anguished and bitter, she never quite let her feelings get in the way of an innate sense of humour.
The second half of the programme was an all-Massenet affair. After an interesting but unexciting performance of his Phèdre overture under conductor Dominic Grier, the curtain lifted on a lengthy excerpt from Act III of Werther. The detailed staging set the action in a green-hued drawing room at the time of Goethe’s original novel (1774). Simona Mihai and Monika-Evelin Liiv formed a splendid duo as sisters Sophi and Charlotte, with clear French diction soaring with their vocal lines. Changhan Lim’s Werther was serviceable rather than inspired, although conductor Daniele Rustioni made good work of Massenet’s score, picking out its instrumental complexities.
The final excerpt, from Act III of Manon, was less inspiring. The dark, spare, staging was strongly suggestive of Chevalier Des Grieux’s church, but costumes were an odd mix of ancien régime and belle poque. Both Ji-Min Park and Eri Nakamura sang powerfully and expressively, but their performances were marred by some woeful diction the clarity of which is an essential component of all French opera. Conductor Rory Macdonald directed the orchestra as he had done in Don Giovanni competently enough, but without much tension or excitement.