An ill-judged, fart-fixated staging of scenes from Il signor Bruschino nearly scuppered this otherwise outstanding Jette Parker Young Artists summer performance at the Royal Opera House. Let’s move upwind and pretend it never happened.
The all-Rossini first half got into its stride with Bianca e Falliero, an unfairly neglected romantic drama if this meltingly beautiful love duet is anything to go by. It was meltingly sung, too, by the ravishingly blended voices of Anna Devin, a bright and beautiful light lyric soprano who has made such an impression this season in main house productions of Hänsel und Gretel (as the Dew Fairy) and Die Zauberflöte (as Papagena), and the equally splendid mezzo Kai Rüütel in the trouser role of Falliero.
Madeleine Pierard was a suitably agitated Desdemona and Ju Hyun Kim a silvery though under-powered Rodrigo in the first-half closer, the confrontation scene from Act One of Otello. Once again, the chance to experience some little-heard yet thrilling Rossini was just as valuable as the opportunity it gave us to hear all ten singers strut their stuff together.
Young Artist stage director Rodula Gaitanou did not have a great afternoon if truth be told, but one high point was the tense scene from Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia that opened part two. Goodness, Mr Figgis, whoever would have thought this opera to have so much blood in it! Passion, menace, ruthlessness and one blackly funny joke: they all made their mark because the staging had pace and the performances rang true. Elisabeth Meister was a Lucrezia to reckon with – what a commanding figure this fine soprano has become during her Jette Parker years! – and Lukas Jakobski was her dastardly equal as Duke Alfonso, albeit in a production that required him to do little more than pace the stage like a guard dog on duty.
Paul Wynne Griffiths has had a busy few days covering for the ailing Andris Nelsons on Madama Butterfly, but that did not prevent him and the fizzingly on-form Royal Opera House Orchestra from underpinning all the day’s performances with precision and élan. He ceded his place in the pit twice: first to Volker Krafft, who gave Il signor Bruschino a good Rossinian impetus, and then to Geoffrey Paterson who conducted the most substantial extract of all: the opening thirty minutes from Act Two of Death in Venice.
The chord-based string writing of Britten’s orchestral introduction, with its recurring ‘I love you’ motif, was meshed into a hypnotic web by the orchestra. Steven Ebel may be less than fluent physically, but he proved himself the very model of a Britten tenor as he negotiated some of Aschenbach’s most challenging music. Daniel Grice, meanwhile, was simply magnificent in a pair of the Dionysian roles, as the Hotel Barber and the Leader of the Players.
A quick burst of the Giulietta chorus from Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann rounded off an afternoon of splendid, often blissful entertainment, leaving one with the sense that at least fifty per cent of these young singers are destined for international careers – a proportion that more than validates the fine nurturing work of the Royal Opera.
- Mark Valencia