Vilar Young Artists

Ullmann
Der Kaiser von Atlantis
Mozart
Cosi fan tutte (Act One – from “Bella vita militar” to close)

Der Kaiser von Atlantis:

Emperor – Jared Holt
Loudspeaker – Jeremy White
Death – Matthew Rose
Pierrot / Harlequin – Hubert Francis
Soldier – James Edwards
Girl – Ha Young Lee
Drummer girl – Ekaterina Gubanova

Members of the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Roland Böer


Cosi fan tutte:

Ferrando – Andrew Kennedy
Guglielmo – Jared Holt
Don Alfonso – Matthew Rose
Fiordiligi – Victoria Nava
Dorabella – Tove Dahlberg
Despina – Ailish Tynan

Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
David Syrus


André Heller-Lopez – semi-staging
David Harvey – lighting


Reviewed by: Alexander Campbell

Reviewed: 14 July, 2004
Venue: The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London

This was a showcase for the young artists – singers, musicians and directors – currently engaged on the development programme sponsored by Alberto Vilar.

It also brought a rare chance to hear and see Viktor Ullmann’s short opera penned in the Terezín concentration camp towards the end of World War Two. The composer never saw his work performed as he met his death in Auschwitz in October 1944, and indeed the major preoccupation of the work is the lack of value placed on life and the futility of war. This casts a heavy shadow over the work, although the act of dying is seen as a release or a catharsis and treated as a positive experience.

The score is divided into four scenes following a short prologue introducing the major characters, here delivered by the bass Jeremy White, a regular member of the Royal Opera House company. The music itself is varied – there are stretches where it seems very similar to the ballad operas of Kurt Weill, and then moments where a bitter-sweet romanticism pervades the music, reflecting the composer’s training in German and Czech culture.

The semi-staging was quite effective on its own terms, as the piece is not very dramatic and the drama progresses through the debate between and monologues of the characters. The small orchestra (including saxophone, trumpet, guitar, piano and harpsichord) was placed rear-stage, with the Emperor of the title isolated on a raised platform to the left side. The other characters generally were placed in the foreground. Lighting was subtle and never intrusive.

The young singers generally revealed some voices and stage presence of huge promise. The highlights were the short duet in the third scene on the battlefield between the Soldier and the Girl as they fall in love, having not been able to kill one-another, as their superiors would intend. Here James Edwards’s lyrical tenor met Ha Young Lee’s ethereal yet strong soprano to great effect. They interacted nicely as a stage couple too. One also recognised the potential in Ekaterina Gubanova’s fruity low mezzo. She had some wonderful lyrical music to sing and made much of her brief appearances.

I suspect Jared Holt, who sang the role of the disillusioned Emperor who sacrifices his life at the end to allow Death’s restored value to save humanity, found it hard singing atop the platform on which he was placed. His voice did not carry well, and this undermined his performance to some degree. Matthew Rose made his mark as Death, singing in a sonorous bass. Only Hubert Francis’s Pierrot and Harlequin, delivered in a rather monochrome and uningratiating tone, disappointed.

Roland Böer ably conducted the attractive score. He allowed colour to register in an unforced way, as it should. It is a piece I’d like to hear and see again.

After the interval we were on the more familiar territory of Mozart, with an extended chunk of Cosi fan Tutte. Essentially we had the major part of the first act starting towards the end of the second scene where the officers have ostensibly just left their sweethearts to go and. The first familiar music was the trio “Soave sia il vento”. Not perhaps the easiest place to start from a dramatic point of view, especially for the two sisters; following the trio things fizzed along most engagingly. Each of the singers were allowed one of their big arias, much ensemble playing and generous opportunities to show stage presence.

All six acquitted themselves well – some exceptionally. The honours went to Ailish Tynan’s sparky and hilarious Despina. Here is a young singer who really knows how to hold a stage and communicate with an audience, and yet remain true to the ensemble. Her light, bright soprano and excellent diction were perfect for the role – and how nice to see once again a young interpretation of the part rather than the disillusioned older woman of many recent productions. Her doctor disguise was very nicely handled, as Dr Mesner’s magnetic cure was enacted. I also liked the way this Despina, when introducing the ‘Albanians’ to the sisters reversed Don Alfonso’s original pairing of the lovers – very funny indeed. Tynan could grace any opera house stage in the world in this part.

Matthew Rose’s Don Alfonso was also notable for his rounded bass and his ability to communicate with the audience – especially during his solo recitative. He interacted nicely with Tynan’s Despina too. In general all the recitative was nicely handled and Yuval Zorn’s harpsichord accompaniment of it was first rate.

Of the quartet of lovers, Tove Dahlberg’s Dorabella was delightfully sung, with her “Smanie implacabili” being the more effective for being slightly underplayed dramatically. She has a lovely silvery light soprano and her contribution to the ensemble was notable. Victoria Nava had a harder job as Fiordiligi, as she had the fiendishly difficult “Come scoglio” to negotiate. She managed reasonably well here, although her big soprano sometimes lost focus at the top under pressure, and her coloratura was not always absolutely precise – but it was not fudged in any way either! Once past this hurdle she seemed to relax a bit and performed with greater confidence. Dramatically she played the part well, making much of her tall stature in “Come scoglio”, where she was certainly rock-like! The character contrast between her and Dahlberg was nicely judged.

Jared Holt contributed a genial, extrovert and over-confident Guglielmo, and inter-played nicely with Andrew Kennedy’s more romantic Ferrando. Kennedy’s mellifluous and unforced tenor was heard to great effect in “Un’aura amorosa”, which he sang most meltingly and unaffectedly. Perhaps he did not come over quite so well dramatically – but it was a pleasure to hear such beautiful singing.

The support of David Syrus and the orchestra was excellent throughout, and the singers all seemed relaxed, which cannot have been so easy with the conductor behind them most of the time. Perhaps Cosi fan tutte is one of those ideal ensemble operas for young singers. This semi-staging was hugely satisfying and I for one could have happily sat through Act Two.

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