Home | Reviews | Articles | Festivals | Competitions | Other | Contact Us

NOS at Hackney & Stiffelio at Covent Garden 2 May 2007

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 afternoon's experience of opera at Hackney before Stifellio at Royal Opera, Covent Garden points the comparison.

This year's NOS Showcase presents simply staged scenes, mainly key duets, from eight operas, 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. Warmed up by Donald Maxwell, Director of NOS, who warned them 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".

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

Verdi Stiffelio

Royal Opera, Covent Garden 2 May 2007

Stiffelio: José Cura
Lina: Sondra Radvanovsky
Stankar: Roberto Frontali

Orchestra and Chorus of the Royal Opera / Mark Elder

There are for a modern audience fundamental difficulties with Verdi's 16th opera; it is one for which prior orientation (as through the essays in ROH's programme book) is desirable, if not essential - another example of that is the new DVD of Rameau's Zoroastre; we will be advising purchasers (unusually) to view the documentary extras before tackling Pierre Audi's quite difficult production.

To put Stiffelio in context, one needs to be aware that adultery, commonplace nowadays in life and theatre, was a topic which could not be dealt with in contemporary terms on the stage when Stifellio was new. Audiences were not used to seeing operas depicting people of the time, wearing clothes similar to their own. And adultery and divorce were both taboo subjects, the latter illegal in Italy until 1974! (See Mary Jane Philips' article Divorce: The Unspeakable Word.) The histories of the two versions of the opera, Stifellio and Aroldo, are necessary pre-knowledge for fully appreciating the reconstructed original.

The mood and tunes of the overture made for a less than propitious beginning. This was far from a wholly satisfactory evening, everything belted out remorslessly. Neither Cura nor Radvanovsky's voices were to our taste. The first piece of singing to grab us was Roberto Frontali's as Stankar in the third Act. Everything was crude, loud and unsubtle. The revival was widely condemned by the critics, despite which it appeared not to have improved during the run as one of them had anticipated.

Peter Grahame Woolf

Stiffelio photo: Alastair Muir