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TAKING STOCK : a mid year check on UK Young Singer programmes


There always seem to be a clutch of Young Singer events around the turn of the year, which provide the opportunity to take stock of the young voices who will shortly be emerging on the professional scene. The comments below concern individual items that caught my attention and the singers who really stand out from the pack


The first event on my schedule was the Samling Concert at Cadogan Hall on 8 December The Foundation was celebrating its 10 th anniversary and as usual, Sir Thomas Allen who has been Patron from the outset, was there to host the event, together with Amanda Roocroft. Also on the platform was the Southbank Sinfonia, giving the young singers the luxury of being able to sing with a full orchestra. The first part of the evening was devoted to lieder, with operatic arias following after the interval.


Proceedings got off to a fine start with soprano Lucy Crowe , whose career is already opening up nicely. She seems to have a real affinity for Richard Strauss and controls the melodic line quite beautifully. She rounded off the evening with Gounod's Je veux vivre (Romeo et Juliette) which absolutely sparkled with youthful enthusiasm.


Mezzo Anna Grevelius clearly has a gift for characterisation. She offered three of Montsalvatge's Canciones Negras shifting mood completely from a tender cradle song to the swaggering “ congo solongo” of Canto Negro.


Adrian Ward was the youngest singer on the platform, but already he is showing the qualities of a star tenor: good looks, a voice that is secure throughout the range, plus outstanding musicianship. His choice of Un'aura amorosa (Cosi fan tutte) was a good one and he presented it with palpable seductive charm.


I had not realised that Birmingham boasts the biggest Christmas Market outside Germany (it is twinned with Frankfurt ) and the chalet stalls and milling shoppers stretch right up from New Street to the steps of the Birmingham Conservatoire . Their evening of Opera Scenes proved to have been conceived on a similarly copious scale with generous excerpts from 11 operas. Thirty-eight different soloists were named in the programme overlapping to some extent with the forty-plus chorus, and they were, I would estimate, rather younger than the singers I am accustomed to hearing at the London music colleges


The venue was the Recital Hall, with no stage, just a largish floor space in front of tiered seating. Director Stuart Barker and designer Stuart Target had made much from these slender resources, constantly surprising their audience with subtle twists in the presentation. It was a remarkable evening's entertainment, and I have had to be very strict with myself in limiting this analysis to just a handful of scenes.


A trio of bathing-belle Water Nymphs (Becky Hillier, Mimi Terris and Ksynia Reynolds) frolicking their way through an Act I extract from Russalka made a perfect starting point. Semele was another highpoint. In the title role Alexandra Kennedy combined Barbie “think pink” with some very stylish singing. Frida Osterberg 's flawless dramatic timing made her the ultimate bossy Juno, (although as yet her voice lacks a little of the power needed for the role), and her performance contrasted effectively with Lizzie Hull 's clear voiced Iris, in a splendid rainbow hued costume extending from red shoes to a violet hair band.


In Tosca , time-shifted to Fascist Italy, Frazer Scott proved a winsomely ingratiating Sacristan, and Robert-John Edwards was a seriously dominating Scarpia – both with commendably clear diction and appropriate colouring to their voices.


Rossini's L'Italiana in Algeri made a cheerful finale. Kate Vetch (Isalbella) and Andrew Falbe (Mustafa) showed off some accomplished coloratura, Laura Abella (Elvira) turned Mustafa's hapless rejected wife into a star turn, and Mikael Onelius (Lindoro) has a distinctive tenor that I look forward to hearing again.


Individual performances of note came from Laura Woods , a genuinely full-toned mezzo equally impressive as Maddalena and Amneris, and Rhydian Roberts (Gugliemo) whose earthy baritone is matched by a commanding stage presence. However, the biggest impact of the evening was made by Heather Longman as Donizetti's Pia de Tolomei, tackling both the long cavatina O tu che desti il fulmine and the cabaletta Del ciel che non punisce . She combined a real flair for this bel canto repertoire with a beautifully judged portrayal of the changing moods of the princess – a stunning performance by a still very young singer.


Music director Carl Penlington-Williams provided superb piano accompaniment throughout the evening, a marathon achievement, especially under difficult lighting conditions.


British Youth Opera 's December Concert had the atmosphere of a cosy, family party as Friends and guests gathered in St John's , Waterloo to listen again to half a dozen singers who had taken leading roles in the Summer Season operas. Our host for the evening was Peter Robinson, whose recent appointment as Artistic Director has been much welcomed.


The centrepiece was the duet between Gilda and the Duke from Act I of Rigoletto with the Hungarian soprano Alinka Kozari and NZ tenor Shaun Dixon . Top class, passionate singing and a lovely blend of voices. These two singers returned individually later in the evening with a couple of rarities – a striking coloratura aria from Erkel's Hunyadi Laszlo and the tenor showpiece from Cilea's L'Arlesiana .


Eliana Pretorian is a very gifted performer who seems to fit into any role with ease. On this occasion she contrasted Fiordiligi in martial mood ( In uomini, in soldati ) and Lucia di Lammermoor pouring out effortless sounding coloratura madness.


Catherine Hopper contributed a secure and well judged Where shall I fly? from Handel's Hercules , and Vuyani Mlinde chose Rimsky-Korsakov's Song of the Viking Warrior . His is a wonderfully rich sounding bass, and I am not surprised to hear on the grapevine that he has been invited to join the Jette Parker programme at ROH.


National Opera Studio had two bites at the cherry, showing two facets of their work – an Informal showing of Scenes directed by John Copley, which has become a pre-Christmas tradition, and a concert of operatic highlights with the Orchestra on Welsh National Opera in the studio theatre of the Wales Millennium Centre in January.


The Scenes opened with the a fairly steamy duet from I Pagliacci between Stephanie Corley (Nedda) and Viktor Rud (Silvio), both conveying the heat of their emotions in their voices as much as with their actions.


In L'elisir d'amore Julian Hubbard was rock solid as the implacable Sergeant Belcore, demonstrating a fine sense of comic timing, and Brad Cooper responded with all Nemorino's high notes.


In a substantial extract from Ariodante Amanda Forbes looked elegant as Ginevra and sang prettily, but it was mezzo Julia Riley 's who took the honours with delightfully unforced coloratura and strong portrayal of the title role.


The evening came to a most satisfactory conclusion with the Act III Trio and Duet from Der Rosencavalier with Lenia Safiropoulou (Die Marschallin), Alinka Kozari (Sophie),and Anna Grevelius (Octavian). In an awkwardly shaped performing space the ensemble timing was perfectly maintained, the voices blended agreeably and the shifting tides of emotion were strongly communicated.


Equal contributors to the evening's success were the four trainee repetiteurs, most particualarly Ouri Bronchti and Francois Salignat – in a November lunchtime recital I heard the latter step in for an indisposed singer to give elegantly polished performances of Berg's Sonata and Ravel's Jeux d'eau at very short notice.


Their Concert was accompanied by the full orchestra of WNO with Andrew Greenwood conducting. Each extract was introduced, with biting wit, by NOS Director Donald Maxwell.


As was to be expected, a number of items were repeated from the earlier event, but it was three new duets that I judged to be the highlights of the evening. I am not sure if it was co-incidental that two of these came from Massenet's operas, but it certainly strengthens my belief that his works are unjustly neglected in the UK . First Cendrillon , with Stephanie Corley in the title role and Anna Gravelius as Prince Charming pouring out their tender love and isolation as they stood separated by a hedge of flowers. Then Werther with the Hungarian soprano Alinka Zozari (Sophie) and Ukrainian baritone Viktor Rud (Albert) – these two are enormously talented – who drew out every inch of sub-text in their encounter.


Finally the Antipodean duo of Shaun Dixon (Nadir) and Christopher Hillier (Zurga) in the ever popular Pearl Fishers duet. Shaun spent some months studying privately with Luciano Pavarotti, and he shows similarities of style, but will need to keep in check his occasional tendency to slip out of character. I had heard Christopher not long before in a short song recital in which he was equally effective.


So I can safely say that the state of young singers in the UK is good, but I hope to add to this report following a visit to the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama in March.


Serena Fenwick