Friday 7 February 2020

Opera to Die For: the National Opera Studio in opera scenes from Mozart to Britten through Gounod, Puccini, Janacek & Ullmann at Sadler's Wells

Opera to Die For: Julieth Lozano and Msimelelo Mbali in Così fan tutte - National Opera Studio (Photo NOS - Kirsten McTernan 2020)
Opera to Die For: Julieth Lozano and Msimelelo Mbali in Così fan tutte - National Opera Studio
(Photo NOS - Kirsten McTernan 2020)
Opera to Die for - Janacek, Mozart, Puccini, Britten, Massenet, Ullmann, Gounod, Strauss; Young Artists of the National Opera Studio, Emma Jenkins; Lilian Baylis Studio, Sadler's Wells
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 5 February 2020
Hot on the heels of their residency at Welsh National Opera, the Young Artists of the National Opera Studio bring their programme of opera scenes to London

The current Young Artists at the National Opera Studio have just come back from a residency with Welsh National Opera where they spent a week working on opera scenes with director Emma Jenkins, culminating in a performance, Opera to Die for, on the main stage of the Wales Millennium Centre with the orchestra of Welsh National Opera.

The Young Artists of the National Opera Studio gave a London showing of Opera to Die for at the Lilian Baylis Studio at Sadler's Wells Theatre on Wednesday 5 February 2020 accompanied on piano by the current crop of repetiteurs from the Young Artists.

The mix of composers was suitably varied, with a few rarities amongst the well-known scenes. We heard scenes from Janacek's The Cunning Little Vixen, Mozart's Cosi fan tutte, Puccini's La Boheme (two scenes), Britten's The Turn of the Screw, Massenet's Centrillon, Viktor Ullmann's Der Kaiser von Atlantis, Britten's The Rape of Lucretia, Gounod's Sapho, and Strauss' Die Fledermaus. The singers - Eliza Boom, Alexandra Lowe, Julieth Lozano, Ella Taylor, Kseniia Nikolaieva, Samantha Oxborough, Luis Aguilar, Frederick Jones, Shengzhi Ren, Kyu Choi, Benson Wilson, Msimelelo Mbali -  all took multiple roles (see the list at the bottom of the article) and the four repetiteurs, Juliane Gallant, Mairi Grewar, Fernando Loura, Bradley Wood accompanied in relays.
Opera to Die For: Luis Aguilar and Kyu Choi in Der Kaiser von Atlantis - National Opera Studio (Photo NOS - Kirsten McTernan 2020)
Opera to Die For: Luis Aguilar and Kyu Choi in Der Kaiser von Atlantis - National Opera Studio
(Photo NOS - Kirsten McTernan 2020)
The scenes flowed smoothly from one to another, and another name for the evening might have been songs of love and death. Director Emma Jenkins (who also devised the evening) took advantage of bass Msimelelo Mbali's dancer-like physical flexibility and, wearing white-face makeup of the style associated with the Mexican Day of the Dead, he created an eerie Death figure who haunted each scene. He played Don Alfonso in the scene from Cosi fan tutte putting another slant entirely on Don Alfonso's meddling, and he was also the figure that the Governess in The Turn of the Screw sees in the tower. Guglielemo and Ferrando (Kyu Choi and Luis Aguilar) wore a similar make-up for their 'disguise' in Cosi fan Tutte which linked them very effectively to their characters in Der Kaiser von Atlantis.

We began with The Cunning Little Vixen with Ella Taylor's strong, charming and street-wise Vixen being wooed by the Fox, sung from the side of the stage by Julieth Lonzano and ably played by assistant director Lily Dyble. Death haunted the end of this encounter, as we know it does, leading to him being Don Alfonso in a lively and very contemporary sextet from Cosi fan tutte. 'O soave fanciulla' was given a touching rendering by Ren and Boom, though perhaps they felt a little staid, lacking the vividness of youth. Alexandra Lowe was a vibrant yet touching Governess in the tower scene from The Turn of the Screw, articulating her anxiety finely. The duet from Massenet's Cendrillon brought us a blindfolded Cendrillon and Prince, both again rather street-wise and seeking rapturous consummation. Aguilar and Choi proved a brilliant cabaret-like song and dance double act in the scene for Harlekin and Der Tod from Der Kaiser von Atlantis.

After a short break we reopened with an early scene from Britten's The Rape of Lucretia where the men all compare the fidelity of their wives. Choi, Mbali and Wilson gave a fine ensemble performance with Frederick Jones impressing me significantly as the Male Chorus, certainly a role I would love to hear him sing in full. Nikolaieva was similarly in fine form, giving us a powerful rendition of Sapho's O ma lyre immortelle from Massenet's opera. We returned to Puccini's opera, with the same Mimi and Rodolfo as before, for the Act Three quartet with Lonzano's spitfire of a Musetta really capturing our attention though Benson Wilson's fine Marcello proved her equal. We ended with 'And I must live eight long days', the Act One trio from Die Fledermaus. Lonzano was a delight as another maid (and a bit of a spitfire) and Jones was a sympathetic Eisenstein, but it was Lowe who, having given us Fiordiligi and the Governess, showed that she was a dab hand at operetta too, with all three singers combining song and dance. For the final chorus, also from Die Fledermaus, the previous characters returned, all with their loved one and Death was no-where to be seen.

Opera to Die For: Alexandra Lowe, Frederick Jones and Julieth Lozano in Die Fledermaus - National Opera Studio (Photo: NOS - Kirsten McTernan 2020)
Opera to Die For: Alexandra Lowe, Frederick Jones and Julieth Lozano in Die Fledermaus
National Opera Studio (Photo: NOS - Kirsten McTernan 2020)
Opera to Die For
  • soprano Ella Taylor as the Vixen (The Cunning Little Vixen), Cendrillon (Cendrillon)
  • soprano Julieth Lozano as the Fox (The Cunning Little Vixen), Musetta (La boheme), Adele (Die Fledermaus)
  • soprano Alexandra Lowe as Fiordiligi (Cosi fan tutte), the Governess (The Turn of the Screw), Rosalinde (Die Fledermaus)
  • soprano Eliza Boom as Mimi (La boheme), mezzo-soprano Samantha Oxborough as Dorabella (Cosi fan tutte)
  • mezzo-soprano Kzenia Nikolaieva as Prince Charmant (Cendrillon), Sapho (Sapho)
  • tenor Luis Aguilar as Ferrando (Cosi fan tutte), Harlekin (Der Kaiser von Atlantis)
  • tenor Shengzhi Ren as Rodolfo (La boheme)
  • tenor Frederick Jones as Male Chorus (The Rape of Lucretia), Eisenstein (Die Fledermaus)
  • baritone Kyu Choi as Guglielemo (Cosi fan tutte), Der Tod (Der Kaiser von Atlantis), Junius (The Rape of Lucretia)
  • baritone Benson Wilson as Tarquinius (The Rape of Lucretia), Marcello (La boheme)
  • bass Msimelelo Mbali as Don Alfonso (Cosi fan tutte), Collatinus (The Rape of Lucretia)
  • piano Juliane Gallant (Cendrillon, Sapho)
  • piano Mairi Grewar (The Turn of the Screw, Der Kaiser von Atlantis, Die Fledermaus)
  • piano Fernando Loura (Cosi fan tutte, La boheme)
  • piano Bradley Wood (The Cunning Little Vixen, The Rape of Lucretia)
  • devised and directed by Emma Jenkins
  • assistant director Lily Dyble
  • choreography Mandy Demetriou
  • stage manager Annabel Board
  • lighting designer Peter Didier
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  • An evening with Rosina Storchio: Ermonela Jaho's Wigmore Hall debut celebrates Opera Rara's 50th anniversary  (★★★★) - concert review
  • Music conceived of through restriction, which paradoxically gives the composer freedom: I chat to composer & Royal Academy of Music lecturer Alex Hills  - Interview
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