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Young Artists Summer Concert
Royal Opera House, London 17 July 2005

Alberto Vilar's name had been expunged from the programme of this year's summer concert on the main stage of the Royal Opera House, though a sign on the wall directing you to the Vilar Floral Hall has not yet been overpainted.*

These young singers at an advanced stage of their operatic training gave a beautifully balanced programme of short scenes illustrating the rich field of 'Shakespeare in Opera' (close on 200 more Shakespeare operas in the last 60 years!).

The least unfamiliar excerpt was Britten's wooing by Tytania of a perplexed Ass enjoying unaccustomed flattery and attention (Ha Young Lee & Matthew Rose with fairies). Ha Young Lee confirmed her newly won international fame as audience's favourite in Cardiff; she has a lustrous voice and star quality which ensures that she has the focus of attention when on stage. Each singer was featured at least twice, she as Ophélie and Matthew Rose a sonorous Friar Laurence in a Hamlet scene which however left me not in a hurry to see Thomas's opera in its entirety.

Andrew Kennedy, a Royal Opera Vilar Young Artist since 2003 and winner of the Rosenblatt Recital Song Prize in Cardiff, took on Iago - one of three very individual tenors in Rossini's version.

This excerpt left me eager to hear the whole and we were glad to find that there is a fine recording on Opera Rara ORC 18, with their usual lavish presentation.

Kennedy was effective as Pandarus, Peter Pears' role in Troilus and Cressida, but I was left still with my initial doubts about the viability of Walton's opera felt at its premiere. Liora Grodnitkaite pleased us as Gertrude in Hamlet and several smaller roles and all these singers of the future played their parts creditably in ensemble and solo spots.

The ROH orchestra, taking a busman's holiday on stage (before the rigours of Die Walkure at the Proms next night) gave pleasure under Graeme Jenkins and Rory Macdonald in the Nicolai overture Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor and ballet music from Verdi's Macbeth (that sounded less than fully familiar; is it often cut?).

Although it was good to watch them, and more than the tops of the conductors' heads and the tips of their batons, the orchestral sound was lacking the usual Covent Garden bloom although sharp and clear; strangely dry under a non-reflective cloth ceiling and with curtains at the sides.

The general standard was gratifyingly high and made a strong case for the focus upon the music and the essentials of opera acting (André Heller-Lopes) which are perfectly possible without costuming and (nowadays often distracting) stage gimickry. A most enjoyable evening, full credit to the organisers and all concerned in working it out.

Peter Grahame Woolf

Further thoughts about concert performance of opera came with the Royal Albert Hall Die Walkure (seen on TV Monday) which had me recanting my recent reaction against Wagner after suffering several flawed 'clever' modern productions of the Ring in the opera house and on DVD. A historic occasion; the BBC would do well to make their film available for purchase on DVD. The Times epitomises what can be done with gesture and facial expression alone.

[Editor, 2 August 2005]


Young Artists Programme:

Desdemona - Victoria Nava
Otello - James Edwards
Iago - Andrew Kennedy
Roderigo - Robert Murray

Ophélie - Ha Young Lee
Gertrude - Liora Grodnikaite
Hamlet - Jared Holt
Le Spectre - Matthew Rose

Roméo et Juliette
Juliette - Katie Van Kooten
Gertrude - Liora Grodnikaite
Roméo - James Edwards
Frère Laurent - Matthew Rose

A Midsummer Night's Dream
Tytania - Ha Young Lee
Bottom - Matthew Rose
Peaseblossom - Katie V Kooten
Cobweb - Liora Grodnikaite
Mustardseed - James Edwards
Moth - Robert Murray

Troilus and Cressida
Cressida - Victoria Nava
Evadne - Liora Grodnikaite
Pandarus - Andrew Kennedy
Troilus - Robert Murray
Diomedes - Jared Holt