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The National Opera Studio Showcase
Hackney Empire 2 May 2007

GEORGES BIZET Les pecheurs de perles (Act III) Zurga: Christopher Hillier Lel1a: Stephanie Corley
GAETANO DONIZETTI Don Pasquale (Act I) Norina: Alinka Kozari Malatesta: Viktor Rud
BENJAMIN BRITIEN: Owen Wingrave (Act II) Owen: Julian Hubbard Kate: Julia Riley
VINCENZO BELLINI I Capuleti e i Montecchi (Act I) Giulietta: Amanda Forbes Romeo: Anna Grevelius
RUGGIERO LEONCAVALLO I Pagliacci (Act I) Nedda: Stephanie Corley Silvio: Viktor Rud Tonio Christopher Hillier
GAETANO DONIZETII Roberto Devereux (Act I) Roberto Devereux: Shaun Dixon Sara, Duchessa di Nottingham: Julia Riley
GIOACHINO ROSSINI Le Comte Ory (Act I) Le Comte Ory: Brad Cooper Isolier: Anna Grevelius
GIUSEPPE VERDI La traviata (Act III) Violetta: Lenia Safiropoulou Alfredo: Shaun Dixon
Annina: Alinka Kozari Doctor Grenvil: Julian Hubbard Germont: Christopher Hillier
The Royal Ballet Sinfonia/Roy Laughlin

Musical Pointers has long followed and extolled the operas and other events at London's Royal Academy of Music and the several university music colleges, finding their offerings often fully as rewarding as those by the main professional companies.

This year's NOS Showcase presents simply staged mainly key duets from eight operas, the scenes following each other smoothly and efficiently without pause for curtain calls. I was reminded that we had been dissident supporters of the economical staging of the ill-fated Ramon Gubbay experiment at the Savoy Theatre.

We saw the NOS show at a matinee with school children in the audience brought to have their introduction to this odd art-form. Warned by Donald Maxwell, Director of NOS, that opera was about "love" and in foreign languages, they duly laughed at the only bit of witty, naughty staging (in Don Pasquale) and groaned loudly when duettists kissed! They were reassured that sur-titles would ensure that they knew what was happening in French and Italian.

But there were none for Owen Wingrave, despite the campaign for surtitles for opera in English having been won decisively at ENO long since. Predictably, in the Britten - which had the most complex dialogue of the whole afternoon - the words did not come across, partly because of the orchestration; this was a good opportunity to hear again Julian Hubbard, who had failed to get through to the finals of the Ferrier Competition last week (many of us thought him better than four of the finalists!).

I was generally impressed by the standard of singing, with several personable future stars to be enjoyed. Characterization and acting skills were equally strong as vocal technique, but the direction was patchy, with over-reliance on the nowadays common oddity of people sinking onto the hard floor for little obvious reason. There were few vocal vices (e.g. excessive vibrato) to be heard, and the blend of voices in duet was a notable feature of the afternoon, a testimony to the training at the Studio over the year; no-one sought to upstage his/her partner. Perhaps it is not inappropriate to mention the New Zealander Shaun Dixon, a one-time pupil of Pavarotti, no less! Fine tenors are the rarest operatic birds, and his ringing tones and good stage persona ensured a successful career in the making. Invidious to name names at this stage, but others I enjoyed and who were 'spotted' by opera fanciers talking afterwards, included Anna Grevelius, Viktor Rud and Julia Riley as ones to watch out for.

To get the full flavour of this heartening annual event, do click onto Hilary Finch's reviews of last year's Showcase. And watch out for NOS' forthcoming "Ariathon", a twelve-hour non-stop marathon of opera arias. This may hopefully be a record-breaking fundraising event in aid of the NOS, BYO and the ENO/WNO Benevolent Funds, one to rival Trinity College of Music's May 2006 13-hour marathon, a multi-pianist recital of Rzewski's The Road, "one of the most grandiose projects imaginable ever to have been mounted in a music college".

Peter Grahame Woolf

The National Opera Studio's Showcase will be given again at Hackney Empire tonight, 3 May 7.30