Friday, 18 March 2016

Baroque to Broadway: The National Opera Studio at Rhinegold Live

2015/16 young artists of the National Opera Studio
2015/16 young artists of the National Opera Studio
Handel, Mozart, Rossini, Offenbach, Verdi, Delibes, Massenet, Weill, Gershwin, Lerner & Loewe, and Rodger & Hammerstein; Dingle Yandell, Kate Howden, Ben-San Lau, He Wu, William Morgan, Amber Rainey; Rhinegold Live at the Conway Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Mar 18 2016
Young artists in training, in an engaging evening

On Thursday 17 March 2016, Rhinegold Live featured young artists from the National Opera Studio (NOS) in concert at the Conway Hall. Introduced by tenor Nicky Spence, himself an alumnus of the National Opera Studio, soprano He Wu, mezzo-soprano Kate Howden, tenor William Morgan and bass-baritone Dingle Yandell were accompanied by Ben-San Lau & Amber Rainey in an attractive programme of operatic arias, duets and ensembles by Handel, Mozart, Rossini, Offenbach, Verdi, Delibes, Massenet, plus songs from shows by Kurt Weill, Gershwin, Lerner & Loewe, and Rodger & Hammerstein. The evening ended with a Q&A led by Ashutosh Khandekar, editor of Opera Now magazine.

In his lively introduction, Nicky Spence commented that he had not been back to the National Opera Studio since his year there because, thanks to them, he had been in full time employment as the NOS had equipped his 'singing toolbox' with what it needed for a career both in terms of performance and all the other extra-performance issues of which a young singer needs to be aware. Singers at the National Opera Studio are there for a year and places are filled by competitive audition, in the Q&A afterwards Emily Gottlieb, the NOS chief executive, explained that currently they were auditioning for 2016/17 with over 200 singers competing for 12 places! Nicky Spence joked that his memory of the auditions was 'The X Factor with better clothes and better voices'.

All six performers were studying at the NOS, as both pianists are repetiteurs studying there. The two pianists shared the accompaniment between them.

Things opened with the Brindisi from Verdi's La Traviata sung by He Wu and William Morgan, with Kate Howden and Dingle Yandell providing the chorus backing. He Wu revealed a richly vibrant lyric voice, with William Morgan displaying a fine, thrilling tenor. This was followed by Kate Howden performing Una voce poco fa from Rossini's Il barbiere di Sivigla, in which Howden's well modulated and quite deep mezzo-soprano voice was shown off nicely with some stylish ornaments and fine passagework, plus a lovely sense of humour.

Dingle Yandell gave a very striking account of Io di Roma il giove sono from Handel's Agrippina, which showed off his resonant bass-baritone well and he had a nice evenness of tone throughout the range. The Barcarolle from Offenbach's Les contes d'Hoffmann was given a nicely understated performance by Hu We and Kate Howden, the two voices complementing and contrasting nicely. William Morgan's vibrant tenor voice was not a typical candidate for Ferrando in Mozart's Cosi fan futte but he gave a notable performance of Un aura amorosa.

Hu We made a very poised Manon in the gavotte from Massenet's opera. Perhaps the highlight of the evening was the duet for Nemorino and Dulcamara from Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore sung by William Morgan and Dingle Yandell. All the items in the programme were sung off the book, with the performers dramatising them discreetly, but here we felt we had a real operatic scene. Yandell does not have a typical Dulcamara physique (Yandell cuts a striking figure being very tall and slim) but he show brilliant comic timing and both singers had the knack of bringing off the patter, and interacting with each other in a delightful way.

Less dramatic but still striking was the beautiful performance of Rive en fleurs, the flower duet from Delibes' Lakme sung by Hu We and Kate Howden. We had a similar sense of understatement in the trio Soave sia il vento from Mozart's Cosi fan tutte with the two women joined by Yandell, and the three singing with a nice sense of contrasting character in the voices. The final classic opera item brought all four singers onto the stage for the quartet from Verdi's Rigoletto, with William Morgan making a really roguish Duke and each singer providing a strong sound and distinctive character.

William Morgan then sang Lonely house from Kurt Weill's Broadway opera Street Scene, with Morgan showing us how well the song suits his voice. Dingle Yandell then went into lush, cocktail-jazz mode for a stylish account of I've got a crush on you from Gershwin's musical Treasure Girl. In the Q&A afterwards Yandell commented that he can croon quite happily, but has to guard against this in operatic repertoire. Yandell is slightly older than the other students and has had a successful career in the vocal ensemble Voces8, but as his bass-baritone voice has developed in strength he felt the time was right to move into opera. Hu We then gave a delightful performance of I could have danced all night from Lerner & Lowe's My Fair Lady. The song really suited Hu We's vibrant lyric voice, and talking to her afterwards she told me how much she enjoys singing musicals as well as opera. Hu We is from China, and has spent the last eight years in the UK studying at the Royal Academy of Music, the Royal College of Music and the Guildhall.

The musical part of the evening ended with Some enchanted evening from Rogers & Hammerstein's My Fair Lady arranged for all four singers by Jeremy Silver who is assistant head of music at the National Opera Studio.

We then had a short Q&A where Ashutosh Khandekar, editor of Opera Now magazine, talked to  Ben-San Lau, Dingle Yandell, Nicky Spence and Emily Gottlieb about the National Opera Studio. Ben-San Lau explained how the repetiteurs at the school not only accompanied the singers but themselves had coaching from distinguished repetiteurs. Emily Gottlieb explained about the audition process and said that they were looking not just for technique but for a certain something in performance, and the young singers were expected to have built up stamina having had between five and seven years of training. When asked what it takes she commented 'blood sweat and tears'. Yandell explained how the NOS provided training not just for performance but for everything a singer needs including developing business acumen and building your own personal brand (important in such a competitive market). When asked to give a piece of advice to young singers, Nicky Spence said to be as changeable as possible, and to know yourself, adding that the NOS was a safe place where you could mess up and learn from your mistakes.

The students from the National Opera Studio will be appearing again at Rhinegold Live next year, in what is hoped will be an annual event. The NOS's next event is an evening of contemporary opera scenes directed by Graham Vick at the Lillian Baylis Studio at Sadler's Wells on 20 & 21 April 2016.

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