Flights of Fancy – Mozart and Rossini


Every year the National Opera Studio teams up with Opera North to showcase the talents of their Young Artists. This programme has an impressive pedigree with many currently renowned domestic opera singers passing through this rite of passage as alumni. To that extent this evening offers a glimpse of potential stars of the future as well as a musical treat in its own right.

Director Martin Duncan and conductor Andrew Griffiths have selected a sequence of scenes from the operas of Mozart and Rossini which demonstrate a fascinating network of musical connections and affiliations. Rossini is so often grouped with and assessed alongside Bellini and Donizetti that it is refreshing to be reminded of how much he owes to Mozart in both ‘opera buffa’ and ‘opera seria’. It is one of the strengths of this programme that the arias combine not only very well known items from Mozart’s collaborations with Da Ponte and Rossini’s greatest comic successes, but material from the less-well-travelled parts of their repertoire, involving a very broad range of emotional moods and dramatic scenarios.

Overall, the approach is successful. The singers perform the numbers semi-staged, so that there is dynamic movement rather than a pattern of continuous ‘stand and declaim.’ Comic and serious moments are well taken, without exaggeration, and there is sensitively calibrated accompaniment in place on the piano, particularly from Jacob Swindells, who impersonated the orchestral dynamics of some of the grander set-pieces most credibly. The only real drawback is the venue. Conway Hall is billed as the place ‘where ethics matter’, but unfortunately acoustics do not. The booming, over-blown effect of voices of an operatic scale in that all-wood interior is not ideal for this kind of programme. Fortunately, this concert will be repeated next month at Cadogan Hall, with an orchestra too, and is highly recommended as the best possible format in which these performers may shine.

In a short review of a long batting order, with many performers, it is only possible to mention a few highlights among many. The first half opened strongly with a vivid portrayal of the quintet from the first act of ‘The Magic Flute’ where the three ladies padlock Papageno’s mouth for lying. This was followed by a fluid, well-acted account of the trio ‘Ah, son perduto!’ from the first Act of ‘Figaro’ with Jonathan Eyers an impressive Count, carrying over the significant stage presence he recently generated at Wilton’s. Later in the sequence, Kira Kaplan and Robert Forrest delved deep into the dramatic textures of one of Rossini’s less well-known Tudor dramas; and Nikolina Hrkac, Heming Li and Georgia Mae Ellis showed an equal proficiency in Rossini’s French repertoire with a neatly turned trio from ‘Guillaume Tell.’ The first half concluded with a dramatically busy but lucid account of ‘Vedrai carina’ and the sextet from the early stages of Act 2 of ‘Don Giovanni.’

The second half alternated sterner stuff from Mozart’s contributions to ‘opera seria’ with some sparkling moments of comedy, notably a witty and stylish number from the rarely perfomed ‘Der Schauspieldirektor’ with Rosalind Dobson, Kira Kaplan and Robert Forrest, and an entirely credible account of a guardian-ward relationship from ‘Il signor Bruschino’ by Sofia Kirwan-Baez and Aleksander Kaczuk-Jagielnik. A typical wary and wily Rossini moment, very well turned.

All-in-all this was an engrossing programme that delivered many excellent performances from singers of whom we shall doubtless hear much more in the future.


Conway Hall

National Opera Studio

Director: Martin Duncan

Conductor: Andrew Griffiths

2 May 2024

2 hrs with interval