Friday 21 January 2022

Opera scenes from the Young Artists of the National Opera Studio with the orchestra of English National Opera at Cadogan Hall

Young Artists of National Opera Studio, orchestra of English National Opera, Olivia Clarke at Cadogan Hall (Photo Nick Rutter)
Young Artists of National Opera Studio, orchestra of English National Opera, Olivia Clarke at Cadogan Hall (Photo Nick Rutter)

Opera scenes; National Opera Studio, orchestra of English National Orchestra, dir: Amy Lane, cond: Olivia Clarke; Cadogan Hall

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 19 January 2022
Seventeen young artists in a vivid series of opera scenes, in a terrific evening that was all about what can be achieved together

Each year, the Young Artists of the National Opera Studio (NOS) do a series of projects with the various national opera companies in the UK. And on Wednesday 19 January 2021, NOS brought the fruits of the Young Artists work with director Amy Lane and the orchestra of English National Opera to Cadogan Hall. Conducted by Olivia Clarke, English National Opera's current Mackerras Fellow, seventeen singers performed staged scenes from Verdi's Rigoletto, Rossini's La cenerentola, Jonathan Dove's Flight, Mozart's La clemenza di Tito, Massenet's Werther, Bizet's Les pecheurs de perles, Donizetti's La fille du regiment, Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress, Handel's Orlando, Bizet's Carmen, Britten's Albert Herring, Massenet's Cendrillon and Verdi's Falstaff.

The singers were the 2021/22 Young Artists - sopranos Alexandra Chernenko, Ffion Edwards, Inna Husieva, Laura Lolita Peresivana, mezzo-sopranos Sian Griffiths, Joanna Harries, Shakira Tsindos, counter-tenor Logan Lopez Gonzalez, tenor Monwabisi Lindi, baritones Josef Ahn, Kamohelo Tsotetsi - and the 2021/22 Associate Artists - mezzo-sopranos Arlene Belli, Judith Le Breuilly, tenor Philip Clieve, baritones Jolyon Loy, Jevan McAuley, bass Thomas D Hopkinson.

With one exception, all the excerpts involved a number of singers, duets, trios, a quintet and a sextet, and one of the things that came over from the evening was the way the singers interacted with each other, the evening wasn't so much about individual performances as the sense of what can be achieved together. And whilst the operas were familiar, we did not always hear the most famous moments so that the resulting evening was both entertaining and intriguing. Both the original language and English translation was used, and bearing in mind that many of the singers were not native English speakers, the level of communication was admirable. And not just the English, we heard from fine French too.

We began with the duet for Gilda (Inna Husieva) and Rigoletto (Kamohelo Tsotetsi) from Act 1 of Verdi's Rigoletto. Husieva was an appealingly vibrant Gilda, yet also poised and controlled whilst Tsotetsi was an intense Rigoletto, displaying a wonderfully expansive sense of line, and there was even a short moment for Sian Griffiths as Giovanna. Then came the Act 1 quintet from Rossini's La cenerentola, where Joanna Harries' Cenerentola pleaded with Jolyon Loy's Don Magnifico whilst Dandini (Josef Ahn), Ramiro (Mawabisi Lindi) and Alidoro (Thomas D Hopkinson) looked on. Harries was a serious and rather intent Cenerentola with an admirable grasp of the fioriture, whilst Loy made Magnifico highly physical and was clearly having much fun with the role. Both Lindi and Ahn combined Rossinian style with character whilst Hopkinson made Alidoro's sudden appearance with great aplomb.

The mood then darkened as Logan Lopez Gonzalez sang the Refugee's Act 3 aria from Jonathan Dove's Flight. It is a profoundly moving moment when the man describes his terrible journey and how he lost his brother, and Lopez Gonzalez made gripping drama of it. 

We returned to sunnier aspects as Inna Husieva and Shakira Tsindos sang Servilia and Annio's duet from Act 1 of Mozart's La clemenza di Tito. Husieva made a poised, charming Servilia, phrasing beautifully and providing a foil to Tsindos' serious Annio sung with a strong vibrant line. But the mood didn't last, as Sian Griffiths was a moving Charlotte, her voice bringing a lovely dark colouring to the line, in a scene from Act 3 of Massenet's Werther, where Ffion Edwards made a Sophie full of winning charm.

With the next excerpt it was a case of 'no, not that duet'. We heard a duet from Bizet's Les pecheurs de Perles, but this was for Leila (Alexandra Chernenko) and Zurga (Josef Ahn) from Act 3 as he realises she loves Nadir. Chernenko made a touching Leila, singing with a vibrant sense of line, whilst Ahn's flexible baritone seemed ideal for the repertoire, and the two created some electrifying drama. We ended part one on a lighter note as Tonio (Monwabisi Lindi) tells Marie (Laura Lolita Peresivana) that he loves her and the two sing a love duet, from Act 1 of Donizetti's La fille du Regiment. Both brought great character to their roles, making an appealing pairing with some stylish singing.

Part Two opened with the scene from Act 2 of Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress where Nick Shadow (Thomas D Hopkinson) persuades a bored Tom Rakewell (Philip Clieve) to marry Baba the Bearded Turk. Hopkinson was wonderfully persuasive as Shadow with Clieve making a dramatic Tom. As ever with this opera, there were balance problems with young voices, but the two created some cracking drama, particularly in the final duet.

Three trios came next, from three very different eras, yet in each there was one character at odds with the other two.

The trio from Handel's Orlando is one of those magical moments, as the three voices circle round, with Angelica (Alexandra Chernenko) and Medoro (Logan Lopez Gonzalez) declaring their love and trying to console the inconsolable Dorinda (Ffion Edwards), who had her own hopes of Medoro. Chernenko and Lopez Gonzalez made impressed as the lovers, poised and stylish, with Edwards as a movingly characterful Dorinda. 

The next trio was of a rather more disturbing cast, the card scene from Act 3 of Bizet's Carmen. Laura Lolita Peresivana and Sian Griffiths were delightful and highly characterful as Frasquita and Mercedes, whilst Arlene Belli was a powerful Carmen with singing that was straight and direct, providing a strong and disturbing contrast. 

Britten's Albert Herring brought us into the 20th century as Philip Clieve's intense Albert wished he had the confidence and directness displayed by Sid (Jevan McAuley) and Nancy (Judith Le Breuilly) overheard in a love scene together. McAuley and Le Breuilly brought great charm to the lovers, whilst Clieve made the most of Albert's dramatic climax at the end.

For the penultimate scene we returned to Cinderella, only Massenet's incarnation this time. And having sung Rossini's heroine, Joanna Harries returned as the Prince, with Shakira Tsindos as Cendrillon. The two characters have a romantic duet but midnight strikes and Cendrillon flees, providing a wonderfully romantic climax to the evening.

The final scene was the fugue from the end of Verdi's Falstaff with Jolyon Loy as Falstaff and the other solo parts taken by Laura Lolita Peresivana, Ffion Edwards, Joanna Harries, Arlene Belli, Monwabisi Lindi, Josef Ahn, Philip Clieve and Thomas D Hopkinson, joined by the remaining singers as the chorus. The young singers made the piece real fun and gave no sense at all of the complexity of Verdi's writing, bringing the evening to a joyous, brilliant close.

Throughout, Olivia Clarke and the orchestra of English National Opera accompanied with sympathetic aplomb. Clarke had been due to share conducting duties with Richard Farnes, but unfortunately Farnes was ill and Clarke admirably took over the entire programme, showing a quiet sense of skill and decisiveness throughout.

Amy Lane's direction was admirably clear and direct throughout. The setting was just a few chairs with the emphasis being on communication, yet the most was made of the acting area at the front of the stage. 

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