Saturday, 29 June 2019

Young Artists Performance of Verdi's Un ballo in maschera at Opera Holland Park

Verdi: Un ballo in maschera - Georgia Mae Bishop - Opera Holland Park young artists performance 2019 (Photo Frances Marshall / Marshall Light Studio)*
Verdi: Un ballo in maschera - Georgia Mae Bishop - Opera Holland Park young artists performance 2019 (Photo Frances Marshall / Marshall Light Studio)*
Verdi Un ballo in maschera Young Artists performance; Nadine Benjamin, Adriano Graziani, Jack Holton, Georgia Mae Bishop, dir: Rodola Gaitanou/Rachael Hewer, City of London Sinfonia; Opera Holland Park
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 28 June 2019
The annual Young Artists Performance at Opera Holland Park

Verdi: Un ballo in maschera - Adriano Grazini, Claire Lees - Opera Holland Park young artists performance 2019 (Photo Frances Marshall / Marshall Light Studio)
Verdi: Un ballo in maschera - Adriano Grazini, Claire Lees
Opera Holland Park young artists performance 2019
(Photo Frances Marshall / Marshall Light Studio)
The annual Opera Holland Park Young Artists performance took place on Friday 28 June 2019. Rodula Gaitanou's production of Verdi's Un ballo in maschera [see my review] featured young artists Jack Holton as Anckarstrom, Claire Lees as Oscar, Georgia Mae Bishop as Madame Arvidson, Blaise Malaba as Ribbing, Tom Mole as Horn and Samuel Oram as Cristiano, and they were joined by Nadine Benjamin as Amelia and Adriano Graziani as Gustavo. Rachael Hewer was the associate director and the performance was conducted by associate conductor Sonia Ben-Santamaria, with the City of London Sinfonia in the pit.

This was in fact the second performance by this cast, as on 26 June they gave the schools matinee [you can see a video of the terrific reaction they received on Opera Holland Park's Facebook page]. Nadine Benjamin had also gone on as Amelia with the main cast as cover for Anne Sophie Duprels earlier in the week, whilst Adriano Graziani performed two scheduled performances with the main cast.

Nadine Benjamin (making her debut performances in the role) made a poignant and expressive Amelia, her voice showing an obvious sympathy and affinity with Verdi's vocal lines. She shaped Amelia's music expressively and brought out the underlying seriousness and melancholy of the character, even in the rapturous Act Two duet this Amelia never quite got carried away.  I do hope that we get to hear Benjamin in further Verdi roles soon.

Adriano Graziani was a lithe and bright-toned Riccardo, finely delineating the character's emotional journey from the devil-may-care attitude in the opening scene to his Act Three realisation that he must give up Amelia. In the earlier part of Act Three he seemed to tire somewhat, but rallied to give a powerfully moving death scene.

Verdi: Un ballo in maschera - Jack Holton, Blaise Malaba, Tom Mole - Opera Holland Park young artists performance 2019 (Photo Frances Marshall / Marshall Light Studio)
Verdi: Un ballo in maschera - Jack Holton, Blaise Malaba, Tom Mole - Opera Holland Park young artists performance 2019 (Photo Frances Marshall / Marshall Light Studio)
Clare Lees was a wonderfully sparky Oscar, really emphasising the mixed gender characteristics which are a feature of Oscar in this production. Lees was beautifully effortless in her coloratura whilst combining this with an impressive physicality, and the lightness of her performance emphasised the Offenbachian qualities of Verdi's writing for this role.

Jack Holton was an impressive Anckarstrom. The role is quite stretch for a young baritone, and there were moments in Act Three when the lower reaches seemed not quite in focus yet, but he will certainly grow into it. Emotionally the performance was fully developed, the intense seriousness of Act One exploding into the furiously obsessive jealousy of Act Three. Rather impressively, 'Eri tu' was finely integrated into the performance rather than standing out as sometimes happens.

Georgia Mae Bishop made Madame Arvidson into a striking creation, bringing a very different physicality to it than Rosalind Plowright in the main cast, yet equally vivid. Bishop [who sang the role of the Mother in the premiere of my opera The Gardeners last week], mined a thrilling lower register to striking effect.

Verdi: Un ballo in maschera - Nadine Benjamin - Opera Holland Park young artists performance 2019 (Photo Frances Marshall / Marshall Light Studio)
Verdi: Un ballo in maschera - Nadine Benjamin - Opera Holland Park young artists performance 2019
(Photo Frances Marshall / Marshall Light Studio)
Blaise Malaba and Tom Horn brought an impressive stage presence to the conspirators, Ribbing and Horn, joining with Holton's Anckarstrom for a finely tense account of their Act Three scene. Samuel Oram impressed in the small but important role of Cristiano the sailor in the scene with Madame Arvidson.

In the pit, Sonia Ben Santamaria drew a finely fluid and flowing account of the opera from the City of London Sinfonia.

With a different cast, other aspects of the production were thrown into relief, but I have to admit that I found the concept of Act Two no more successful than I did at the premiere. Associate director Rachael Hewer and the cast had worked hard to integrate with Rodula Gaitanou's production, keeping to the concept yet giving highly personal performances.The result was a performance of the complex opera which had a surprising depth and maturity.


Verdi: Un ballo in maschera - Claire Lees, Sonia Ben Santamaria - Opera Holland Park young artists performance 2019 (Photo Frances Marshall / Marshall Light Studio)
Verdi: Un ballo in maschera - Claire Lees, Sonia Ben Santamaria - Opera Holland Park young artists performance 2019 (Photo Frances Marshall / Marshall Light Studio)
The Opera Holland Park Young Artists scheme is rather unique; participants have a full rehearsal period and take part in a ticketed main-stage performance. They are individually mentored by the Head of Music, language coaches, and professional directors, conductors and répétiteurs. Many past young artists have gone on to become part of the Opera Holland Park family, and all of this year's productions have former young artists involved.

The scheme relies on your support and you can find out more from the Opera Holland Park website.

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