Out of the Shadows

Tuesday, 15 June 2021

Exuberance and poise: Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro from Opera Holland Park's Young Artists

Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro - Lada Valešová, Jacob Philips, Charlotte Bowden, Guy Withers - Opera Holland Park (Photo Ali Wright)
Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro - Lada Valešová, Jacob Philips, Charlotte Bowden, Guy Withers - Opera Holland Park (Photo Ali Wright)


Mozart Le nozze di Figaro; Jacob Phillips, Siân Dicker, Charlotte Bowden, Ross Ramgobin, Charlotte Badham, dir: Rebecca Meltzer/Oliver Platt, cond: Lada Valešová; Opera Holland Park

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 14 June 2021
The annual Young Artists Performance brings a different energy and lovely sense of youthful ensemble to this witty, post-modern take on Mozart's opera

Opera Holland Park's Young Artist Scheme is celebrating its 10th birthday this year and the production chosen for the Young Artists performances was Oliver Platt's witty, post-modern take on Mozart's La nozze di Figaro, designed by takis. We caught the performance on 14 June 2021 when Lada Valešová conducted the City of London Sinfonia, with Jacob Phillips as the Count, Siân Dicker as the Countess, Charlotte Bowden as Susanna, Charlotte Badham as Cherubino, Hannah Bennett as Marcellina, Alex Jones as Bartolo, Isabelle Peters as Barbarina and Guy Withers as Basilio / Don Curzio. Jolyon Loy who was to play Figaro was ill so Ross Ramgobin from the main cast played the role. Rebecca Meltzer was the associate director, responsible for rehearsing this cast. The performance was the first of four that this cast is giving, two of which are schools matinees.

Oliver Platt's production is certainly not staid [see my review] but Rebecca Meltzer and her young cast found an extra level of physicality in this performance, bringing out the more comic elements yet anchoring them firmly in real characters, and there were lots of moments when you noticed details where cast members very much made the characters their own. Ross Ramgobin, as very short notice, fitted brilliantly into the cast and the whole was a real ensemble piece.

Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro - Charlotte Badham, Siân Dicker - Opera Holland Park (Photo Ali Wright)
Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro - Charlotte Badham, Siân Dicker - Opera Holland Park (Photo Ali Wright)

As the Count, Jacob Phillips' had clearly been to all the right schools, he had the manner born along with a natural born assumption of command, yet this was allied to a lack of intelligence and native wit which meant others ran rings round him. Philips' combined this with a wonderfully resonant voice, so that his assumption of the role was fully rounded. For the Count's opening scene, Philips flashed his naked legs with a will, whilst by the the end of the opera he was reduced to little boy lost.

Siân Dicker has the sort of voice with dramatic potential which makes critics speculate about what roles might be in store for her, which is unfair. This evening was very much about her commanding performance as the Countess. Dicker sang the Countess' arias movingly and combined them with a striking portrayal of the young woman (for she was young) struggling in her marriage and finding something within herself. Dicker has a very speaking countenance, I loved her icy disdain towards the Count during the Act Three finale, and in Act Four she was the very epitome of dignity and the grand manner. A lovely performance which seemed to anchor all those around her.

As Susanna, Charlotte Bowden was very much one of Mozart's 'Viennese soubrettes' who, in Charles Osborne's words 'combine charm with managerial instinct'. Bowden's Susanna had a delightful butter wouldn't melt in the mouth demeanour, combined with sharp instincts and a clear sense of her own power. She and Ross Ramgobin sparked off each other nicely and created a real feel of a young couple settling the rough edges of their relationship. With her superiors this Susanna had deference but was in charge, her scenes with Jacob Phillips' Count were priceless.

Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro - Hannah Bennett, Jolyon Loy, Alex Jones at dress rehearsal - Opera Holland Park (Photo Ali Wright)
Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro - Hannah Bennett, Jolyon Loy, Alex Jones at dress rehearsal - Opera Holland Park (Photo Ali Wright)

Charlotte Badham was a surly teenage Cherubino, all bad hair and a highly physical manner. Badham's highly expressive eyes came into play during the Act One finale, and throughout she managed the trick of making Cherubino engaging yet annoying in his obsession with the female form, as well as impressing us with the way she used her warm mezzo-soprano voice in the arias.

Hannah Bennett was a pert, scheming Marcellina supported by Alex Jones' bluff, self-important Bartolo, whilst Guy Withers was a complete delight as an outrageous Basilio and a hesitant Don Curzio. Isabelle Peters was a minx of a scheming Barbarina, whilst Henry Grant Kerswell repeated his Antonio from the main cast.

But more than any particular performance what you felt from this performance was the singers sheer joy at performing together and creating this complex ensemble. The Opera Holland Park Chorus, as ever, provided lively backdrops and some scene-stealing chorus moments.

Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro - Hannah Bennett, Alex Jones, Jolyon Loy, Jacob Philips, Siân Dicker, Charlotte Bowden, Guy Withers at dress rehearsal - Opera Holland Park (Photo Ali Wright)
Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro - Hannah Bennett, Alex Jones, Jolyon Loy, Jacob Philips, Siân Dicker, Charlotte Bowden, Guy Withers at dress rehearsal - Opera Holland Park (Photo Ali Wright)

In the pit Lada Valešová provided her singers with space. This wasn't a youthful, hell-for-leather account of the opera, Valešová clearly prized a balanced approach, carefully shaping the music and making sure that the traffic policeman element of the evening meshed with the musical one, and she drew some fine playing from the orchestra. Thomas Ang, the repetiteur for this cast, provided the lively forte piano recitatives.

Opera Holland Park's Young Artist Scheme was launched in 2011 supported by the philanthropist Christine Collins who wanted to give young artists a chance not just to work with a professional company in smaller roles but their moment in the spotlight to show what they can do. Since then countless singers, conductors and directors have been through the scheme and many are now contributing to Opera Holland Park's main performances. 

Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro - Lada Valešová and City of London Sinfonia - Opera Holland Park (Photo Ali Wright)
Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro - Lada Valešová and City of London Sinfonia - Opera Holland Park (Photo Ali Wright)


 Further information from the Opera Holland Park website

 


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