National Opera Studio Annual Concert


Every year the members of the members of the National Opera Studio Young Artists Programme present a final showcase concert of opera excerpts: this year it took place at Cadogan Hall. A short review cannot easily do justice to many segments or performers, but suffice to say that thanks to the skills of the performers, careful programming and deft direction the evening was a lot more than simply the sum of its parts.

Credit must first of all go to those who devised the programme – they managed to ensure that all the singers had equal weighting, that operatic extracts from all periods of repertory were represented, and that ensemble numbers rotated with arias for smaller numbers. This is no mean feat of coordination and artistic discrimination. Moreover, the evening worked as a concert in its own right too.

On top of that the semi-staged direction of the evening by Emma Jenkin was superbly done – there were elegant segues from one item to another, achieved through continuity of personnel or the light touch of a significant gesture, prop or costume that travelled from scene to scene. The singers performed in front of the orchestra with just a chair or a rack of clothes to support them, but at no point was the material anything other than lucidly accessible. There was a natural flow through the numbers that indicated a great degree of comfort and ease with both the demands of the music and the acting required to present it to the audience. This reflected very well on all concerned, the more particularly because sickness had moved through the company and resulted in two of the cast losing their voices. They walked the roles while substitutes sang for them; but we all got used to the conceit.

It was good the concert began with a section from Ethel Smyth’s ‘Fête Galante’, a charming and under-performed work, and the evening really came alive with a fizzing ‘bonne bouche’ of Offenbach from Sofia Kirwan-Baez and Robert Forrest. I was impressed by the performers’ handling of the tricky ensemble in an extract from Britten’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream, where the fairy music also evoked a delightfully delicate set of textures from the orchestra. In the Act II Trio from ‘The Daughter of the Regiment’, Heming Li, Camilla Seale and Aleksander Kaczuk-Jagnielnik were all vocally accomplished and dramatically convincing; and Kira Kaplan was particularly impressive in a section from ‘The Pearl Fishers’ that concluded the first half.

Kaplan and Georgia Mae-Ellis got the second half off to a scintillating start with one of the rivalrous sisterly duets from ‘Cosi fan Tutte’ imaginatively relocated, mats and all, to a yoga studio. Other highlights included another Britten segment, from ‘Albert Herring’, a sprightly duet from Donizetti’s ‘The Elixir of Love’ where Smelo Mahlangu distinguised himself, and a rousing finale from ‘DieFedermaus’, which brought the whole company together as one.

All-in-all this was a delightfully diverting evening, elevated further by the contribution of the ENO Orchestra conducted with sensitive precision by Rory Macdonald. At a time when this orchestra’s future is in question it was good to be reminded of their calibre and importance over and above their work at the Coliseum itself. The eloquent testimonies of the Young Artists in the programme bore witness to the vital role this programme plays in establishing a bridgehead between the academy and university on the one hand, and the professional world on the other. Moreover, the poise, technical confidence and acting skills on show confirmed how much the programme had delivered on its promises.

Cadogan Hall

Conductor: Rory Macdonald

Orchestra of English National Opera

Director: Emma Jenkin

Cast: Members of the National Opera Studio Young Artists Programme

Photo credit: Julian Guidera

11 June 2024

2 hrs with interval