Scottish Opera Emerging Artists Recital
**** (4 stars)
Scottish Opera’s Emerging Artists programme gives a period of full-time work with the Company to young people endeavouring to establish their careers. Starting just with singers, the programme has been extended to give the same opportunity to a composer-in-residence, a repetiteur and a costume trainee.
It’s always a joy to see these young artists as they progress through their year, and this year’s crop of singers are no exception. Charlie Drummond had already delighted me in the autumn Opera Highlights tour and moved me in her brief cameo as the Geisha in Mascagni’s Iris, so I was sorry to learn that a last-minute illness meant she had to withdraw from the recital. In her absence, mezzo Heather Ireson and baritones Arthur Bruce and Mark Nathan, accompanied by Michael Papadopoulos, entertained us right royally.
Heather got us off to an electrifying start with Dorabella’s dramatic hissy fit from Mozart’s Così fan tutte – the drama queen saying ‘sod off and leave me alone: if I don’t die of grief I’ll end my days in misery’. She showed the very real conflict of interests as Zerlina tries unsuccessfuly to resist Don Giovanni’s advances in là ci darem la mano; and followed this with what for me was the highlight of the afternoon – Minskwoman’s soliloquy I bought this suitcase in New York. Initially a sunlit recollection of happy times, it becomes a lament for lost selfhood – “Tired woman, drained of life” – as her life leaches away before her eyes under the mound of nappies and baby clothes that consume her very existence. It was a superb performance, rightly greeted with a long silence and prolonged applause.
The two baritones presented a fascinating contrast in vocal quality and personality. Arthur Bruce, already seen in Amadeus and the Bard and Iris this season, began with Belcore’s swaggering Come Paride vezzoso from Donizetti’s L’Élisir d’Amore: his huge, bright sound effortlessly voicing his massive egocentric swagger. He showed a much wider-ranging mixture of emotions as he tried to comfort a grieving Ariadne in Harlequin’s aria Lieben, Hassen, Hoffen, Zagen from Richard Strauss’s Ariadne Auf Naxos, and as Valentin expressed his concern for his sister, Marguerite when he is called up to fight in Avant de quitter ces lieux from Gounod’s Faust. I look forward to seeing him later this year in Gilbert and Sullivan’s Utopia, Limited and The Gondoliers.
Mark Nathan’s darker, subtler, and more flexible baritone brought us two less well-known arias – O Lisbona alfin ti miro from Donizetti’s Don Sebastiano and Komm, Tzigany from Kalman’s Gräfin Maritza – in both of which he displayed a wide range of emotions. The famous poet who fought beside Don Sebastian, was captured and enslaved, and can hardly believe he sees his beloved Lisbon once more had moments of velvet-soft pathos and soul-stirring patriotic outbursts, while as the disguised Count Tassilo he poured out his feelings for his native land [and the Countess Maritza] as he celebrates the Life of the gypsy. I enjoyed Mark’s performance in the autumn Opera Highlights tour and look forward to seeing him in Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Gondoliers.
The programme ended with two delightfully cheerful numbers – the Gendarmes’ duet from Offenbach’s Geneviève de Brabant and the Champagne aria from Johann Strauss II’s Die Fledermaus – which allowed the singers to let their hair down and have enormous fun, sending us out with a smile into the dreich Glasgow afternoon
Michael Papadopoulos did a great job of accompanying the stylistically varied programme: he’s also been working on most of the pieces in this year’s season, was assistant conductor for Iris and will be the music director and pianist for the spring Opera Highlights tour.