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2016 Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance (ROH, 17 July 2016)

It’s that time of the year again, time to close up shop for the Summer at ROH (the weather yesterday suggested just that: don’t stay indoors!) but not before the annual Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance. Let me remind you I also wrote about the 2014 and 2015 JPYA Summer Performances.

If you read any given article about opera in the local papers you’re sure to run into comments like “cut the state funding, it’s entertainment for the rich”. That being the current attitude, the trend of using all purpose boards as stage design comes in handy once again. For our five opera excerpts we had the same boards passing as garden wall, hospital ward, art exhibit, bohemian hovel and party hall. I bolded the ones I thought worked best.

Since I’ve been very happy of late with minimal stage design I wasn’t bothered by the paucity of detail. The Summer Performance is about young singers getting experience singing on the main stage. Now the cast has already had more than one occasion to sing in ROH productions but they perhaps haven’t had to carry important scenes before.

A weird thing having to do with these boards (I guess?) was that whenever the singers were positioned further back (though never too far, as the boards split the depth of the stage in half of its usual size) or to the sides their voices sounded louder and more metallic. This was consistent for all of them and not something you normally hear at ROH.

Janáček: Kát’a Kabanová, Act II, scene 2
Conductor: Paul Wynne Griffiths
Katěrina (Kát’a): Vlada Borovko
Varvara: Emily Edmonds
Boris Grigorjevic: Samuel Sakker
Vána Kudrjáš: David Junghoon Kim

My experience with Janáček is limited to The Makropulos Case and The Cunning Little Vixen, neither of which has been a mainstay on my playlist but I have been left with a good feeling after each listen. Same here, the orchestral writing made a very positive impression on me. I have also enjoyed the (appropriatedness of the) folk tunes the servant characters have as basis for what they sing. David Junghoon Kim hammed it up with gusto as Kudrjáš and was my favourite in this scene.

The libretto, on the other hand, is so melodramatic! In this scene, married Kát’a and her hopeful suitor (Boris Grigorjevic) have barely said hello, I love you (let me jump in your game, as The Doors would put it) and she’s already omg, I have committed a great sin and I must suffer! Way to put the cart before the horses. Anyway, what they end up doing doesn’t much sound like suffering to me. Though I understand it’s all downhill from here. Thankfully we were spared that.

Though Maestro dug out quite a few interesting details, I thought his fs were too loud, having heard Wagner and Strauss in this very hall. He returned to this trend in further scenes but the singers competed well, though one would wonder how they’d have fared at that volume over a three hour opera.

Gounod: Mireille, Act IV aria
Conductor: Paul Wingfield
Mireille: Lauren Fagan

Weirdly enough I studied (excerpts? of) Mireille (the poem) in French class about, ahem, 20 years ago. Which means this is all I remember about it and only because the girl who “played” Mireille in class was cute. So I don’t know if having a still confused Mireille recovering from a suicide attempt makes sense with the story but this is what we got. Wiki says this about the scene:

Mireille, staggers in already tired, and dazzled by the sun, faints as she hears shepherd’s pipes in the distance. She makes a last effort to continue her journey.

The aria is about going on in spite of many setbacks and it contains religious references, so might as well. Fagan showed total commitment and some nice skills where dynamics were concerned. I’m not the biggest fan of her tone but her stage presence was strong.

Tchaikovsky: Eugene Onegin, Act III, scenes 1 and 2 (excerpts)
Conductor: Jonathan Santagada
Tatyana: Jennifer Davis
Eugene Onegin: Yuriy Yurchuk
Prince Gremin: James Platt
Guests: Vlada Borovko, Lauren Fagan, Emily Edmonds, David Junghoon Kim, Samuel Sakker, Samuel Dale Johnson and David Shipley

As I was saying, the boards worked very well with this scene since it looked like the party was in a very contemporary (think Shoreditch) exhibition space. This is the scene where Prince Gremin sings praises to Tatyana (now his wife) which work a little too well on Onegin. It’s almost like he falls in love with her on the basis of Gremin’s appraisal alone (we could have a staging where Gremin is a car salesman, eh?).

Then there’s the scene where Onegin shows up at her house (I love it when this happens in opera, a character is thinking about someone in a very private space and somehow that very person comes out of the woodwork 😀 ) and professes his suddenly undying love to her. This gives her the opportunity to remind him how he’d rebuked her when she wasn’t fashionable and married to a rich man.

Before the show started we were told by Holten that Jennifer Davis (Tatyana) was under the weather but I didn’t particularly notice anything. Yurchuk as Onegin was appropriately moody but this year he didn’t stand out to me quite as much as last year as Michonnet.

James Platt (much enjoyed by me in previous outings, particularly as Caronte in last year’s L’Orfeo) was such a charismatic Gremin, he stole the scene(s). His rendition of the aria in praise of Tatyana ended up being my favourite thing of the afternoon. His tone lent itself beautifully to the aria, his phrasing was spot on and he seemed to relish singing it. He also looked like I imagined Gremin would.


Leoncavallo: La bohème, Act IV
Conductor: Paul Wynne Griffiths
Mimì: Lauren Fagan
Musetta: Emily Edmonds
Marcello: Samuel Sakker
Rodolfo: Samuel Dale Johnson
Schaunard: David Shipley

Did you know Leoncavallo wrote his own version of this tearjerker? Well, I didn’t but he did. It’s a bit different (properly verismo, makes the libretto used by Puccini look like a bourgeois fantasy of poor artists’ life) but Mimì still dies. Samuel Dale Johnson as Rodolfo pulled out some proper Italianate pathos. I really enjoyed David Shipley’s Schaunard here, he was very good as comic relief and had a nice, even tone. The crap fast food grub he brings his friends was a nice touch.

Strauss: Die Fledermaus, Act II finale (excerpt)
Conductor: Paul Wynne Griffiths
Rosalinde: Vlada Borovko
Adele: Jennifer Davis
Ida: Lauren Fagan
Prince Orlofsky: Emily Edmonds
Gabriel Eisenstein: Samuel Dale Johnson
Dr Falke: Yuriy Yurchuk
Colonel Frank: James Platt
Guests: David Junghoon Kim, Samuel Sakker and David Shipley

This was odd but then that party is one of the (if not the) weirdest parties in opera. As it was the closer, (most) everyone came on stage in their previous costume. Dead Mimì was pulled to her feet and Fagan became Ida without further ado. Then everybody paired up in more or less surprising ways, some of them not straight. It had an air of improv to it but the audience enjoyed the levity after so many dead serious scenes and such a comprehensive zoom through operatic languages.

ROH Summer Season General Sale goes slightly awry…

Noooooo, I double booked like an idiot 😦

So, anyone interested in a ticket to the opening night of Il trovatore? I discovered I liked Haroutounian enough not to wait until Winter but it looks like I will have to anyway. Feh.

Anyway, this is what I got:

Werther, 24 June

Il trovatore, 2 July

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance, 17 July

Though I like the music better, I scraped Nabucco for the damn Il trovatore just to expand my Verdi soprano horizons (I’ve already seen Monastyrska the last time around) and there it goes clashing with Stutzmann… (please reschedule!)

I never remember how the booking for the previous season went but this time the site “said” there would be a queue forming by 8:55am. There seemed to be no queue by that time but maybe I was too eager in logging in too early. By 9am I was number 1700something in the queue. All was done in 15min but alas.

2015 Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance

Betrothal and Betrayal

was the title of this outing. This made me think of how many operas contain weddings or betrothals or at least reference such events significantly. Well, most of them – certainly most (all?) of Mozart’s. Likewise, there is a betrayal somewhere if there’s going to be a plot.

Last year the JPYA Summer Performance was focused on one act each from La favorite and Cosi fan tutte. This year it was structured on scenes from Simon Boccanegra, Adriana Lecouvreur, Les pecheurs de perles, La damnation de Faust and Romeo et Juliette. For more variety it started off with a very energetic rendition of the overture to Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor (conducted by Jonathan Santagada). Last year the sets and costumes were more adventurous, this year they were old school literal.

Simon Boccanegra (Verdi)

Amelia Grimaldi: Anush Hovhannisyan
Amelia’s maidservant: Rachel Kelly
Gabriele Adorno: Samuel Sakker
Pietro: Yuriy Yurchuk
Jacopo Fiesco: James Platt
Conductor: Paul Wynne Griffiths

Anush Hovhannisyan had the misfortune to start off proceedings and thus her very solid performance went without applause. In the light of the public’s later exuberance this was quite sad. I for one thought she was the best thing of the afternoon and I’m no Boccanegra fan. It was a difficult thing to sing and she showed poise and style. James Platt was also strong as Fiesco, not bad at all at portraying old age and a secretive nature.

Adriana Lecouvreur (Cilea)

Adriana: Nelly Miricioiu
Mlle Jouvenot: Lauren Fagan
Mlle Dangeville: Rachel Kelly
Poisson: Luis Gomes
Abbe de Chazeuil: Samuel Sakker
Michonnet: Yuriy Yurchuk
Quinault: James Platt
Prince de Bouillon: Jihoon Kim
Conductor: Paul Wynne Griffiths
Celeste: Colin J. Scott

This was the bit I was most excited by and it proved satisfyingly complex, giving most everyone in the program something to do. Let us not forget that the work will return to ROH in the not so distant future. Until then, the youth squad led by mentor Miricioiu took an entertaining stab at it.

In spite of the pizzazz, it was pretty much a showcase of Yurchuk’s considerable skills. He has a beautiful tone which he employed carefully, coping very well with the length and complexity of his part (Michonnet continues to love Adriana even after he realises she only cares for him as a friend because how can any one of us music fans not love the people who take us beyond ourselves via music?). With Miricioiu, whom I have not heard live before and was quite curious about, I appreciated the great ease of working with the orchestra. There were moments where they blended so well together, it underscored just what Michonnet was going on about in his monologue.


Les pecheurs de perles (Bizet)

Leila: Lauren Fagan
Zurga: Samuel Dale Johnson
Conductor: Michele Gamba

This was the public’s favourite bit, with Johnson the big star of the afternoon – mid-aria ovations and all. I was baffled by such ardent enthusiasm, especially given that their duet put some strain on my ears (projection is important but I’m more of a fan of colour of which I hardly detected any). I know parents, lovers and friends make up the bulk of the public at these shows but we all have turn-ons and turn-offs and I’m afraid I’m no fan of either’s tone.

La damnation de Faust (Berlioz)

Marguerite: Rachel Kelly
Conductor: Paul Wynne Griffiths

This one was practically unstaged, just mezzo Rachel Kelly singing D’amour l’ardente flamme in front of the curtain. Having seen her a number of times now, I don’t think this choice was the best showcase of her current skills. Whereas her performance a few months back as Zaida in Il turco in Italia left a very positive impression on me, her take on Marguerite’s big aria sounded dull and inexpressive.

Romeo et Juliette (Gounod)

Juliette: Kiandra Howarth
Romeo: Luis Gomes
Frere Laurent: James Platt
Conductor: Paul Wynne Griffiths

The tomb scene is practically identical to the one Bellini wrote for his Capuleti. Since I know that scene very well, I had time to compare and contrast. I am aware this is the better known opera, but as far as I am concerned Gounod’s take on this scene is vastly inferior to Bellini’s.

First off, I felt the music unmemorable, Romantic opera by numbers. Then there’s the silliness/sentimentality of the libretto. It might be the first time Bellini compares favourably when it comes to this. Here Romeo enters the Capuleti resting place and says “what a beautiful crypt!” For real?! Comparatively, Bellini’s take on the tomb scene is filled with sadness and dread, even creepiness. As it should be, says I. In Gounod’s version, Romeo consumes the poison but when Juliette wakes up, he appears to have completely forgotten his predicament for a good few minutes whilst they frolic. Then, when Juliette realises he is going to die, he consoles her with cheesy platitudes along the lines of “it’s ok if we die, angels will watch over us“. Jesus wept.

The singing wasn’t bad. I’d heard all three of them before, with James Platt already being a voice I’m keeping an eye out for. He didn’t have much here but he didn’t disappoint. Luis Gomes’ voice seems to favour these earnest types (last year he was Fernand in La favorite) but considering the music was rather boring I don’t have much else to say. Prior to the tomb scene, Howarth sang the aria where Juliette is steeling herself to take the poison. I think out of the 2-3 times I’ve heard her so far this was my favourite. The role suited her voice and the rendition was convincing.

Can’t say I had objections to the conducting since I am mostly unfamiliar with these works (they belong to the period of music I am least attracted to, known as after 1840, before 1910). But you never know what you might like when exposed to live. For instance I enjoyed the Boccanegra excerpt a lot more than I imagined I would.