As part of the Royal Albert Hall’s Festival of Film, on Tuesday members of Opera Holland Park presented, in the Elgar Room, an evening of music from opera that has made its way into the movies.
It was certainly an evening for members of ‘the cult of the soprano’, as six of them were there (with the presence of two mezzos, it is surprising that there was no encore, as, between them, they could probably have managed The Ride of the Valkyries, albeit that the version in Apocalypse Now is the orchestral one). It was perhaps sad that, either because stand-alone soprano arias are so much more common anyway, or maybe they lend themselves more to the drama of film, there wasn’t as much for either of the mezzos or the two tenors to perform; the mezzo Ellie Edmonds, and Thomas Humphries, the lone baritone, had no solo spots at all.
The mezzo Charlotte Hewett’s voice has a spread quality to it, and her by-turns-sultry-and-brassy rendering of the Carmen Habañera (heard in the Pixar animated film Up) worked well. The sweetest voice onstage belonged to Julia Hamon, and it was appropriate that she employed it to give an extra peaches-and-cream lift to the two more recherché items on the menu: Catalani’s ‘Ebben? Ne andrò lontana’ – which featured memorably in Diva – and Dvořák’s ‘Song to the Moon’ (part of the soundtrack to Driving Miss Daisy). Lauren Fagan’s voice has a solid quality in its mid-range that suited Puccini’s ‘Quando m’en vo’ (Moonstruck) and the finale, Verdi’s ‘Sempre libre’, well, and her chest voice notes were right on the button; the top of her range, though, was perhaps suffering a little from her busy schedule. “Those two Italian ladies” (as ‘Red’ Redding describes Susanna and The Countess), played by Eleanor Dennis and Fleur de Bray, made an elegantly matched pair of plotters for Mozart’s ‘Canzonetta sull’aria’.
As mentioned above, it is sad that Thomas Humphries had no solo arias; his is a voice with character and sonority – as his Don Alfonso in ‘Soave sia il vento’ (taking us back a long way to the 1971 Sunday Bloody Sunday) and his Zurga in Au fond du temple saint’ (ten years later in Gallipoli) proved.
Stephen Aviss’ tenor voice sits somewhere between spinto and dramatic, and has both warmth and power, making it the perfect partner for Thomas Humphries’ rich baritone in the Bizet, but allowing him some extra headroom for the edge needed to reflect, in Verdi’s ‘Questa o quella’, the heartlessness of both The Duke of Mantua and Wall Street’s Gordon Gecko. John Wood, at 24, was the youngest singer there, but possessing the biggest voice, and his rendering of ‘Vesti la giubba’ (featured in The Untouchables) made the Elgar Room ring.
It was an entertaining evening, but it felt a little stark and slightly under-prepared – as though the performers had turned up to sing their party pieces. The presenter, Petroc Trelawny, stitched everything together with slick elegance, but some of the numbers felt a little rushed (‘Soave sia il vento’ needed a little more time to breathe, especially in Don Alfonso’s cadenza), and, while Stuart Wild’s piano playing was competent, it sometimes lacked the engagement with the performers that a more rehearsed set might have engendered – ‘Un bel dì vedremo’, for example, an aria so dependent on timing and orchestral colour to make it work, needs a lot of attention if it is to be sung with only a keyboard accompaniment.