I went to the Summer Programme of the Jette Parker Young Artists Programme in the Royal Opera House on Sunday afternoon 9 July. I was expecting a recital of Operatic items, possibly with Papa Papano at the piano. But no, the Welsh National Opera Orchestra had come up for the day and the first half was fifteen staged scenes of Don Giovanni, and after the interval, three chunks of Massenet: the overture from the incidental music for Phèdre, the scene from Werther when the hero returns after Charlotte and Sophie have had their duet; this was followed by the Saint Sulpice scene where Charlotte re-seduces Werther.
These Young Artists are part of an educational programme, the singers being taught their craft and taking small parts in the Big House. The performance was extremely professional and well prepared. Thomas Guthrie was responsible for a minimalist but effective production with good costumes by Ilaria Martello. There were just a few props such as a harpsichord for Charlotte and some cute brolly-drill while the Don sang his champagne–less champagne aria.
Don Giovanni began not too well with ill-balanced chords, the overture played as though volume was a substitute for intensity. This malaise spread somewhat to the singers, possibly wary of projecting their young voices in the big space of the Opera House. A pity because when they did not force their tone, there was plenty of musical understanding, good phrasing, and first-rate acting. Pumeza Matshikiza (South Africa) was a convincing Elvira and sang some of her music very well. Anita Watson (Australia) was plumb accurate but overdid the volume, I found. Zerlina was Simona Minai (Romania), charming but with a voice more dramatic than lyric soprano. The Don, Kostas Smoriginas (Lithuania) was excellent, full voiced , a competent performer and singer, Leporello Vuyani Minde (South Africa) was also good. Rory Macdonald accompanied the singers expertly.
After the interval the orchestral playing went several notches higher as Dominic Grier conducted the fine overture to Phèdre, Massenet in seven minutes invoking fate at the beginning and the end, with three marvellous tunes in the allegro. Zerlina was now Sophie, and Monika – Evlin Leiv (Estonia) showed a good stylish mezzo voice and an excellent dramatic sense. Werther/Changan Lim was adequate but somewhat lacking in charm and style (I came home and played Tito Schipa’s classic tenore di grazia rendition of the Ossian aria, Pourquoi me réveiller.) Daniele Rustioni conducted the orchestra, rousing it to passion.
With the scene from Manor came the star of the afternoon: this was Eri Nakamura (Japan), lovely voice, no wobbles, lovely singer and actress. Good conducting from Rory Macdonald (Scotland – the artists whose nationality I have not mentioned were all home-grown).
So you see, Covent Garden is looking to the future in preparing these young artists and it certainly did these singers proud by giving them everything possible in the way of orchestra, staging and teaching. The large audience gave up its Sunday afternoon and was rewarded with young talent and a good programme well performed.
12 – 17 October there will be Meet the Young Artists Week in the smaller Linbury Studio theatre. There will be a staged production The Truth about Love, an Orchestral Concert, Recital, A Juke Box session and other events. Further information from the Box Office 020 7304 4000; Most of the events are free.