Opera Holland Park has its unique features – the peacocks gleefully duetting with the singers, the passing yoof merrily carousing, the relaxed attitude of some of the audience – and its inclusion within the season of a night in which young singers perform alongside the house soprano must be the one most worthy of emulation. For this ‘Christine Collins Young Artists’ evening, we were able to experience some up-and-coming talent both onstage and in the pit, in a performance notable for its professional style and commitment.
The ‘regular’ soprano, that is the one who has featured in all the main shows, was the light-toned, suitably fragile-looking Anne Sophie Duprels; her Butterfly is a known quantity, and she presents the role with more than the usual sense of the girl’s desperate determination. She faithfully executed the required dance movements, which to this eye seemed about as appropriate as having a Susanna constantly twirling a feather duster whilst French polishing an armoire.
However, this evening was not really about the Cio-Cio San but invited the focus to be on the young singers, and they achieved the distinction of never once making us feel that they were out of place next to the prima donna. The stand-out performances came from the Suzuki of the Dutch mezzo Maria Fiselier and the Sharpless of Ben McAteer; Maria’s is an exceptionally warm, opulent voice, used with sensitivity, and Ben’s assumption of what is one of opera’s most difficult roles was an outstanding achievement for so young an artist – he made you feel all Sharpless’ decency and frustration. Pinkerton also has a thankless task, and the Portuguese tenor Luis Gomes presented him convincingly, revealing a very even, carefully produced voice with welcome touches of astringency – you could imagine him in Janáček’s tenor roles.
The smaller parts were all creditably taken, especially Peter Davoren’s almost-sympathetic Goro, Katie Slater’s noble Kate Pinkerton, and Dominic Kraemer’s melancholy Yamadori. The City of London Sinfonia responded enthusiastically to Natalie Murray’s lively, at times even elegant direction – this is clearly a young conductor on her way up, with an impressive CV suggesting careful preparation for a career encompassing a very wide repertoire.
The production, originally by Paul Higgins and here under the direction of Emma Rivlin, was austerely beautiful, with the narrative allowed to speak for itself without any extraneous impositions on the subject of Imperialism or other ‘issues.’ The walls of the ‘little house’ were indeed paper-fine, with a jagged fissure running across them to perhaps suggest the riven nature of Pinkerton’s emotions as well as the heroine’s broken dreams. The stage at OHP is not an easy one, and everything that could be done to work within its constraints had been thought of; if we missed a little of the sense of intimacy between the lovers, or of the claustrophobia of the family around Cio-Cio San, that was compensated for by the clarity with which the narrative was allowed to unfold.
The evening was a worthy follow-up to last year’s Gianni Schicchi with Alan Opie in the title role, supported by a similar cast of young singers; it’s a simple yet challenging formula, and since it’s one which has now had these two successes, it’s likely to become a welcome feature of future seasons.