Summer madness and madcap high jinxs from the Jette Parker Young Artists

Director Noa Naamat and lighting designer Nick Havell made the panelled oak
walls which have been serving so effectively as both a 1950s country club
and Windsor Forest during the current revival of Robert Carsen’s production

Verdi’s Shakespearean swansong

, work surprising well as a theatre-within-a-theatre, a lunatic’s cell, a
Queen’s inner chambers and the Mediterranean coast. Pendulous chandeliers,
potted palms, and a silver pistol were a few of the minimal props that did
good service. And, with bright penetrating colours and simple sets, moods,
locales and dramatic tensions were deftly and pointedly established: the
greens and purples which bathed the sleeping Ariadne, the blood red which
tormented Rakewell in his dying moments before his ascent in the shimmering
white clouds of the afterlife, the deep-sky blue which glistened with the
sun’s gold behind the Bey’s terrace, all made a striking impression.

Conductor Sonia Ben-Santamaria was given the task of heralding the 2018
showcase, and though there were a few smudges in the opening fanfare from The Rake’s Progress the Orchestra of Opera North brass sound was
bright and punchy, and the fanfare might have proved an efficient
call-to-attention and curtain-raiser had it not been followed by the
electronic tannoy reminder to switch off mobile ’phones and refrain from
photography during the performance, rather dampening any excitement
generated. And, the curtain was to stay firmly lowered for a little longer,
during the overture to Offenbach’s La Belle HÈlËne, in
which conductor Matthew Scott Rodgers conjured elegant and tasteful

The show got underway with excerpts from Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos, though the task of establishing the context
twice in quick succession, when we shifted from the conclusion of the
Prologue to Ariadne’s first aria, not surprisingly proved challenging and
the quick sequence of disparate numbers felt a little restless. As in

Katharina Thoma’s Glyndebourne production

, the commedia troupe were a barbershop quartet, skilled in soft
shoe shuffles and adept at twirling a brollie, and their harmonies were
sweet. Angela Simkin’s Composer hit the histrionic heights with aplomb and
Haegee Lee’s Zerbinetta was a festoon of candy pink and vocally assured.
Best of the bunch was Gyula Nagy’s Music Teacher, a poseur par excellence
who nonchalantly smoked a cigarette through the Composer’s complaints and
whose fore-curtain introduction to ‘Ariadne’ was a masterpiece of physical
and vocal gesture.

Condemned to mental torment – and, in this production, self-harm – in the
subsequent excerpt from Act 3 of The Rake’s Progress, Thomas
Atkins’ Tom Rakewell nursed his Adonis-delusions with painful conviction.
Atkins’ performance was one of the highlights of the showcase, and he was
ably supported by Francesca Chiejina’s vocally sympathetic Anne Truelove
and Simon Shibambu’s Father Truelove. The final ascent to the heavens was
both poignant and transcendent: one could almost forget that any suggestion
of ‘redemption’ is overturned by Stravinsky’s epilogue which reminds us
that the devil makes work for idle hands.

Jacquelyn Stucker has made a strong impression during her first year as a
JPYA, as Princess Azema in


and Frasquita in Barrie Kosky’s new


; she also won Second Prize in this year’s Glyndebourne Opera Cup. Here,
her OphÈlie – in the opening of Act 3 of Ambroise Thomas’s Hamlet
– confirmed her accomplishment and stellar potential. Stucker sang with
purity and colour, by turns and as required, and had plentiful stamina for
the big vocal climaxes; but, more importantly, she really communicated
OphÈlie’s confusion, distress and emotional frailty while all the time
sustaining vocal assurance and precision. Nagy returned as Hamlet,
demonstrating that he can do existential frailty as well as entertaining
farce; his fragmented ‘to be or not …’ monologue was consummately
structured and projected. Simkin was a round-toned Gertrude while the
earnestness of Shibambu’s prayer won a little sympathy for the murderous

The best was saved till last. Attired in stunning scarlet, accessorised
with designer clutch-bag and killer stilettos, Aigul Akhmetshina’s Isabella
was a girl who knew her own mind and charms. Shibambu displayed a winning
comic nous as the teased and tempted Bey Mustaf‡ – tickled
literally and figuratively by Isabella’s roving, fluttering fan. Haegee
Lee’s emotionally wrought Elvira and Konu Kim’s hapless Lindoro threw
themselves, and each other, back and forth across the wide stage, each
determined to retain their loved one’s heart. The comic capers were manic,
but expertly choreographed by movement director Jo Meredith, climaxing with
a behind-the-plant-pot, now-you-see-me-now-you-don’t routine that was
perfectly timed and flawlessly sung. Summer madness, indeed.

Claire Seymour

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance: Director – Noa Naamat,
Lighting Designer – Nick Havell, Movement Director – Jo Meredith, Orchestra
of Opera North.

Stravinsky: The Rake’s Progress, opening fanfare

Conductor: Sonia Ben-Santamaria

Offenbach: La Belle HÈlËne, Overture

Conductor: Matthew Scott Rogers

Strauss: excerpt from Ariadne auf Naxos

Echo – Francesca Chiejina, Zerbinetta – Haegee Lee, Prima Donna/Ariadne –
Sarah-Jane Lewis, Dryad – Aigul Akhmetshina, Composer – Angela Simkin,
Naiad – Jacquelyn Stucker, Scaramuccio – Thomas Atkins, Brighella – Konu
Kim, Music Teacher – Gyula Nagy, Harlequin – Dominic Sedgwick, Truffaldino
– Simon Shibambu; Conductor – Jac van Steen, Piano – Nick Fletcher, Celeste
– Sonia Ben-Santamaria, Harmonium – James Hendry

Stravinsky: The Rake’s Progress, Act III, final scene

Anne Trulove – Francesca Chiejina, Tom Rakewell – Thomas Atkins, Father
Trulove – Simon Shibambu; Conductor – Jac van Steen, Continuo – James

Thomas: Hamlet, Act III beginning

OphÈlie – Jacquelyn Stucker, Gertrude – Angela Simkin, Hamlet – Gyula Nagy,
Servant – Dominic Sedgwick, Claudius – Simon Shibambu; Conductor – James

Rossini: L’italiana in Algeri, Act I finale

Elvira – Haegee Lee, Isabella – Aigul Akhmetshina, Zulma – Angela Simkin,
Lindoro – Konu Kim, Taddeo – Gyula Nagy, Haly – Dominic Sedgwick, Mustafa –
Simon Shibambu; Conductor – Nick Fletcher

Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London; Sunday 15th July 2018.

image_description=Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance 2018
product_title=Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance 2018
product_by=A review by Claire Seymour
product_id=Above: Dominic Sedgwick (Haly), Gyula Nagy (Taddeo), Angela Simkin (Zulma), Haegee Lee (Elvira), Aigul Akhmetshina (Isabella), Simon Shibambu (Mustaf‡), Konu Kim as Lindoro

Photo credit: Clive Barda