The Jette Parker Young Artists at 20: a review

The Jette Parker Young Artists at 20: a review
Photo © 2022 ROH, photo by Bill Cooper

The Jette Parker Young Artists at 20 Soloists; Elaine Kidd (presenter); Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden / Antonio Pappano, Michael Papadopoulos, Edo Frenkel. Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, 23.07.2022 (CC)

Director: Mathilda du Tillieul McNicol

Lighting Designer: Allan Ramsay

Fight Director: Rich Gittins

Massenet: Manon, Act II, Scene and Aria of Manon. Alexandra Lowe (Manon); Alan Pingarrón (Des Grieux); Chuma Sijeqa (Lescaut); Grant Doyle (De Brétigny).Conductor Antonio Pappano.

Puccini Madama Butterfly, Act III, Trio Pinkerton’s Aria. Ksenia Nikolaiva (Suzuki); Andrés Presno (Pinkerton); Grant Doyle (Sharpless). Conductor Michael Papadopoulos.

Verdi Luisa Miller, Act II, Quartet. Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha (Luisa); Ksenia Nikolaeva (Rederica); Blaise Malaba (Walter); Chuma Sijeqa (Wurm). Conductor Antonio Pappano.


Prokofiev Romeo and Juliet, excerpt from Balcony Scene. Conductor Edo Frenkel.

Rachmaninov Aleko (excerpt). Blaise Malaba (Aleko); April Koyejo-Audiger (Zemfira); Egor Zhuravskii (Zemfira’s Lover). Conductor Antonio Pappano.

Lara (arr. Hazell): Granada. Aigul Akhmetshina, Alan Pingarrón. Conductor Antonio Pappano.

J. Strauss II Die Fledermaus (excerpt from finale of Act II). Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha (Rosalinde); Alexandrea Lowe (Adele)Aigul Akhmetshina (Orlofsky); Egor Zhuravskii (Eisenstein); Grant Doyle (Falke); April Koyejo-Audiger (Ida); Chuma Sijeqa (Frank); Blaise Malaba, Ksenia Nikolaeva, Alan Pingarrón, Andrés Presno (Guests). Conductor Antonio Pappano.

Amazingly, with this performance, the Jette Parker Young Artists Scheme reaches the end of its 20th season. Over 140 singers, stage directors, repetiteurs and conductors have benefitted; an international roster of artists joining the company for two years to work in this unique environment. In celebration, the evening included bonus interviews and film screenings, celebrating achievements from the stage of the Royal Opera to its stalls space (during lockdown, seats removed) to King’s Cross St Pancras station.

The Jetter Parker Young Artists (henceforth renamed the Jette Parker Artists Programme) was established in 2000/1 by Elaine Padmore, then Director of Opera, and the first intake of six ‘Vilar Young Artists’ occurred in 2001/2, expanding almost immediately (the next year) to include conductors and repetiteurs, with stage directors added in 2003/4. Across the years, achievements have been many: in 2012/3 Haydn’s L’isola disabitata was nominated for two Helpman Awards; in 2018/19 artists form the programme performed with Bryn Terfel at Prince Charles’ 70th birthday; a nomination for an Oliver Award in 2019/20; the live stream-only production of Weill’s The Seven Deadly Sins and Mahogonny Singspiel as well as Solo Stories; a celebration of International Women’s Day in 2022 at St Pancras International in Lost & Found, seven mini-operas commissioned from all-female writing teams.

Glancing through the list of Jette Parker Artists since inception brings a list of familiar names, from Alfie Boe in the first intake 9which also saw Sally Matthews and Edgaras Montvidas) through Ailish Tynan (2002-4), Matthew Rose (2003-5), Marina Poplavskaya (2005-7), Jacques Imbrailo (2006-8), Kostas Smoriginas (2007-9), Eri Nakamura (2008-10), David Butt Philip (2012-14), Anush Hovhanissyan (2013-15), Yuriy Yurchuk (2014-16) and skipping to the most recent, Masabane Ceclia Rangwanasha (2019-21), already a star in the making after her Proms First Night Verdi Requiem) and Blaise Malaba (2022-22). From the most recent (2022-3) company, we met director Mathilda du Tillieul McNicol and conductor Edo Frenkel.

The evening worked with split-second precision, inspiring videos complementing a host of interviews and stories about the project. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, of course, and the spread they put on was delicious indeed, from Massenet to Johann Strauss II, from operatic staple to Italian song. Lighting (Allan Ramsay) was superbly managed, as was the direction of scenes (Mathilda Du Tillieul McNicol). It was the freshness of Massenet’s Manon that seemed the perfect opener. With Pappano at the helm, the orchestra was predictably well-disciplined. It was Alexandra Lowe, recently heard in Pierrot Lunaire (reviewed by Mark Berry), who impressed most, delivering an expansive, heartfelt ‘Adieu, mon petit table’. Grant Doyle brought experience to the role of De Brétigny, and Chima Sijeqa was a strong Lescaut (Sijeqa was due to sing the Forester Vixen at OHP last summer but was indisposed, so good to hear him on this occasion). As Des Grieux, tenor Alan Pingarrón was less pleasing his voice somewhat bleaty.

Alexandra Lowe as Manon, © 2022 ROH, photo by Bill Cooper

The heartbreaking third act of Madama Butterfly under Jette Parker Michael Papadopoulos brought with it the finest of the Jette Palker singers on display: the force of nature that is Kseniia Nikolaeva, who performed previously as Giovanna in Pappano’s superb Rigoletto in February this year. Takingteh role of Suzuki here, her fine, strong yet rounded voice, almost a contralto, is capable of the most profound statements. It was Andrés Presno who sang the big aria, though, "Addio, fiorito asil, nicely strong of voice but perhaps not as emotionally convincing or compelling. Grant Doyle was a reliable Sharpless.

Kseniia Kikolaieva, © 2022 ROH, photo by Bill Cooper

The highlight of the first half, and of the entire evening, was the Act Two Quartet from Verdi’s Luisa Miller, with Msabane Cecilia Rangwanasha  in the title role, Nikolaieva as Federica, Blaise Malaba as Walter and Chuma Sijeqa as Wurm. To have Pappano in Verdi, the composer he surely is at his greatest, is a treat for both audience and singers (in spite of the fact that there is a long passage of the four singers minus orchestra – how accurate was the return of the orchestra, and how well the singers kept pitch).

The second part began with part of the Balcony Scene from Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet. Not the most confident of performances I have heard – the conductor was Edo Frenkel, who continues in 2022/23 as a Jette Parker Young ballet conductor/répétiteur. Pappano was a firmer hand for Rachmaninov’s Aleko, a simply brilliant account from all concerned: Blaise Malaba a superbly strong and ardent Aleko, April Koyejo-Audiger a firm and believable Zamfira. If Egor Zhuravskii, as Zemfira’s lover, was perhaps a touch less impressive – surprising given he just the other day excelled in the ROH’s concert performance of Attila.

April Koyejo-Audiger and Egor Zhuravskii, photo © 2022 ROH, credit Bill Cooper

There seemed a slight mismatching of soloists in Augustin Lara's evergreen Granada, Aigil Akhmetshina on peak form, Pingarrón certainly giving all he has but not quiet equalling her excellence. How does one follow that? With Fledermaus, obviously, the second act finale, a grand opportunity for festivities and bags of fun that included everybody performing on the night. It seemed the perfect choice, Rangwanasha shining as Rosalinde, and with Doyle playing Falke to the rafters.

The Jette Parker scheme maintains a valuable presence on YouTube; there is no doubt from this event that the Jette Parker Artists Programme is in vibrant shape. Allowing these voices to shine in major roles fleshes out what we, the audience, might experience when they take on more minor roles in the major season productions. A most valuable – and enjoyable – occasion.

Photo © 2022 ROG, credit Bill Cooper