Bastien und Bastienne / Mozart and Salieri - Linbury Studio, 17 October 2012
Justina Gringyte/Hanna Hipp - Linbury Studio, 18 October 2012
While Covent Garden's main stage has been surrendered to the Ring this month, the Linbury Studio is the usual ragbag of randomness. Last week was given over to the annual autumn showcase for the Jette Parker Young Artists, opening with a double bill of one-acters.
I've heard Mozart's Bastien und Bastienne before, so I'm not sure what induced me to part with the cash a second time - creeping senility perhaps. Of course it's astonishing for a 12 year old, but in the same way that Pudsey is astonishing for a dog. The mechanical prettiness of the music and the emptiness of the story pale well before its hour is up.
The Arcadian subject poses a problem for the modern director too - Little Bo Peep beckons dangerously. Pedro Ribeiro settles on a a pair of railway lines running across the stage, along which the lovelorn shepherd and shepherdess wheel their wooden sheep while a precariously wobbling telegraph pole distracts. The singing of the three principals was decent enough, with bass Jihoon Kim as Colas showing particular promise. Their panto-style mugging, while possibly authentic to genre, was not.
Rimsky-Korsakov’s Mozart and Salieri is another matter. This little opera is rarely seen, but Pushkin's tale of a jealous Salieri poisoning his rival is familiar from Peter Shaffer's Amadeus. Ribeiro resists the temptation of referencing the movie and instead presents a gloomily lit empty stage, which serves to highlight his few theatrical flourishes - a puppet as a street violinist, a single beam of light illuminating Mozart's hands as he plays air piano amongst them.
The genius of the piece lies largely in the libretto, though Rimsky's Mozart quotes are cleverly integrated if bluntly orchestrated. The elegantly poised Ashley Riches subtly captured the malevolence underlying Salieri's ingratiating words to Mozart. His big, steel-edged baritone isn't quite the finished product yet, but once he develops a greater variety of colour it will be formidable. Tenor Pablo Bemsch has a less characterful voice, but made a fine job of Mozart.
The Young Artists gave several free recitals later in the week - I caught just the one. Justina Gringyte and Hanna Hipp are both mezzos, though very different. Gringyte's vast, unbridled Slavic tones possess an old-school and distinctly operatic power; Hipp's velvet-dark and immaculately controlled voice is also large, but more obviously suited to the lieder repertoire they performed here.
I assume the programme director and here, accompanist, put together the clever selection of songs. We heard Gringyte alone with Fanny Mendelssohn's Sechs Gesänge, then Hipp with a Clara Schumann selection, finishing with the pair of them performing duets by Felix Mendelssohn and Robert Schumann. They were better apart than together, where discrepancies of pitch and rhythm became apparent, but overall this was a most enjoyable hour and worth considerably more than the £0 it cost.