BWW Review: JETTE PARKER YOUNG ARTISTS SUMMER PERFORMANCE, Royal Opera House
Overripe and underripe, the 12 singers in this showcase of the Royal Opera's Jette Parker's Young Artists - a two-year programme of both study and performance at the theatre - are approximate in age, but represent the faults and virtues borne by vocalists around the globe.
The singers are by no means vocally delayed in maturation. As performers nonetheless their thoroughly contrasting levels of both confidence and psychological interpretation of their characters make for a motley band of undercooked, overambitious and prepared performers.
This sextet of semi-staged various operatic scenes invited us to study several across more than one role.
In the opening scene from Le nozze di Figaro Michael Mofidian's growly, at times menacing vibrato-laden bass-baritone lent Figaro his necessary self-aggrandisement together with naïve aplomb. Watching the virile physicality of this young, budding honeymooner still ineptly unaware of Almaviva's claim to his fiancée offered a more humorous and dafter paradigm of the notorious character than the conventional portrayal.
Certain top notes were precarious in Mofidian's tackling of the light-heartedly bellicose cavatina "Se vuol ballare, signor Contino" - especially the high F beginning "sì, le suonerò". Nevertheless, Mofidian's well-punctuated rhythmic stops and starts embodied young and somewhat puerile frustration with both rage and pathos.
As his coquettish sweetheart, Susanna Yarita Véliz presented a glistening lyric soprano. Both wary of Almaviva's imminent lecherous moves and brazenly confident of her trance over lovesick young Figaro, Véliz's command of trills and coloratura scales was a well-varnished, exuberant presentation of pure tonal clarity: this was a Susanna with backbone. Later, performing the role of Amore in Gluck's Orfeo, Véliz stumbled a little on higher, more challenging notes that could have used better support, but continued to glide with meticulous ease over unspooling scales with her polished technique.
Endowed with an indisputably unique countertenor, Patrick Terry made great endeavours to layer the title role of Orfeo with a lugubrious sorrow emboldened by love. While he offered a solid command of potentially ambushing scales, his expressive range steered clear of contrasting dynamics, opting to stay at a safer mezzo forte or piano for most of the role.
Occasionally interpolating phrases with affected breaths to emphasise his hero's aching loss of the beloved Euridice, Terry unfortunately slipped into outmoded, stereotypical opera gimmicks. Growth in self-confidence could give him a more intimate immersion in the character and the ability to disregard - sometimes - the fact that he's performing.
Soprano Jacquelyn Stucker's cavernous, velvety timbre largely boasted infallible vocal support and a capacity for sustaining the arduous zeal of expressive long notes. But she would be wise to use these things with greater elasticity; certain tender moments in her incarnation of Orfeo's Euridice fall short of conjuring sombre, languorous diminuendi. Euridice struggles even to breathe at the sight of her speciously negligent lover obeying the gods to protect her ("Oppresso in seno mi diventa affannoso il respirar": "the burden in my heart leaves me breathless"). In episodes like these, Stucker could afford to attenuate her luxurious volume and surrender to a riskier vulnerability.
As the seductive Mélisande in Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande, Hongni Wu lets loose the copious body of her dusky and malleable mezzo-soprano. Sustaining the role's technical challenges, she is nonetheless a little shy to fully melt into the heroine's enticing, mystic ardour; potentially tantalising diminuendi are en route and palpable but don't always emerge, and her instrument at times opts to stay homogeneous in the style of recital.
It is ironically in the role of Rossini's Rosina (Il barbiere di Siviglia) that Wu retains easier and better control, submitting fully to her wily heroine's comedic vocal rhythms. The agility of her coloratura is especially discernible in Wu's performance of the aria "Ah, qual colpo inaspettato", even if select higher notes could be a tad better supported.
Playing the lover to Wu's Mélisande is baritone Dominic Sedgwick, whose full-bodied, well-trained instrument inadvertently evokes belligerence in his amorous worshipping. Inserting overly affected whispers into a phrase on occasion, his insistence to Mélisande of "Regarde, regarde j'embrasse tes cheveux" ("Look, look - I'm kissing your hair") is a little too bold, growly and consistently loud, coming off more like a corporal's command than an enamoured avowal.
More relaxed is Sedgwick in the role of Figaro in Il barbiere di Siviglia, where his sprightly, staccato beats in phrases such as "guarda, guarda, il mio talento" ("look, look at my talent!") come off with zany aplomb.
Tackling the showcase's arguably most majestic role was mezzo Aigul Akhmetshina as Dalila of Saint-Saëns's Samson et Dalila. Embroiled in her bloodlust-driven plan to lead Samson astray from his project of leaving the Hebrews against her own people, the Philistines, Akhmetshina's Dalila is a tempestuous, vindictive seductress fuelling her voice with the bile of her heroine's temper.
Charging into her scheme with "Samson, recherchant ma présence", Akhmetshina nonetheless doesn't distribute her character's wiles to eventually build an intensity - electing to unleash all of her venom at her aria's beginning. With the vocal support largely reserved for the onset of phrases, she starts to get a little tenuous upon approaching their completion, requiring a better hold on "aider ma faiblesse" ("help my weakness") - so that that the very word "faiblesse" does not mirror its meaning. The evidence of her register's range is clear-cut in her sublime hold on the low A-flat of "mes efforts", giving reason to believe that a burgeoning player of dangerous vixens is rising.
As the opera's pair of Gilda and the Duke of Mantua, soprano Haegee Lee and tenor Konu Kim can overreach in their desire to perform. While Lee makes sure to free her limber instrument by ornamenting already challenging scales and coloratura, strain is evident in some top notes in the beloved aria "Caro nome"; several of these scales are rushed. What is undoubtedly a wide range would benefit a great deal from the purported attentiveness of a conservatoire student: a slower, more cautious approach by returning to the original score before adorning the parts with additional trills, slurs and ornaments.
While Kim's portrayal of the Duke of Mantua is rightfully ego-inflated, his at times overly loud voice sabotages the purity of high notes with affectation on words such as "Ah, inseparabile d'amore il Dio" ("Ah, the god of love has bound..."). By forcing certain notes words such as "Che m'ami, deh ripetimi" ("You love me - say it again") come out perilously strained and in the "Addio, addio" duet his fortissimo volume at times drowns out his partner.
Chuma Sijeqa's Rigoletto, appearing only briefly to realise his daughter's been kidnapped, offers an at once bombastic and terrified, well-sustained lower register, using an aptly proportioned vibrato to demonstrate a powerful man at the mercy of terror.
As Samson et Dalila's High Priest of Dagon, baritone Germán E. Alcántara showcases impressive vocal stability but would do well to resist emphasising beginnings of lines. Thando Mjandana's Almaviva in Il barbiere is comically intact, but requires an improved command of scales.
Four young conductors likewise took turns to lay hold of the orchestra. Stylistically, the most prominent among these was Patrick Milne, whose alternating shimmering strings and trance-imbued percussion in his interpretation of Pelléas formed a noble expedition to the ultimate apex of music's transcendence. The screwball of various tempi he employed in conducting the Fugal Finale of Verdi's Falstaff occasionally fell prey to ill-controlled squawks of brass, but embodied the adventure of Verdi's crazed opera.
Fluently curving crests of woodwind resounded in James Hendry's assumption of the baton with Samson et Dalila - even if strings could have submitted to a greater coalescence. The conflicting storm that heralds the beginning of Barbiere's Act II was eminent among a masterfully driven rhythmic interplay between strings and woodwind.
Belaboured with the heavy duty of assuming multiple vocal and sentimental personalities across one afternoon, the Jette Parker Artists ultimately forged a spectacle of mixed results. One wonders if these somewhat fledgling singers shouldn't have at first the opportunity for a profound inspection of their characters: a delivery of one protagonist's sequential arias in concert would be much more psychologically communicable than these fleeting, alternating scenes.
Photo credit: Hongni Wu as Mélisande and Dominic Sedgwick as Pelléas by Clive Barda