Since it was created in 2001, the Jette Parker Young Artists Programme aims to give young artists (singers, conductors and répétiteurs) the chance to develop their skill by spending two years at the Royal Opera House receiving training and support, and performing in main house and smaller productions. This year’s Summer Performance had the underlying theme of ‘Betrothal and Betrayal’, with excerpts from operas including Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra, Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur and Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette.

Before curtain-up, a spectacle of lights accompanied Nicolai’s overture of Die Iustigen Weiber von Windsor (The Merry Wives of Windsor), energetically conducted by Jonathan Santagada and performed by the Welsh National Opera Orchestra. It was a fine start as the beautiful interiors of the Royal Opera House were illuminated, directing the audience’s attention from the proscenium arch to the gilded vault. The first half of the performance also included scenes from Simon Boccanegra and Adriana Lecouvreur, reusing the sets from the Royal Opera’s Falstaff, playing that same evening. It is unfortunate that such good material and such promising talent were not able to shine properly due to poor acting, something that could be seen in nearly all performances, except perhaps for Yuriy Yurchuk’s Michonnet and Rachel Kelly’s Marguerite. On the other hand, there was very interesting singing from Anush Hovhannisyan as Amelia Grimaldi and the above-mentioned Yurchuk. In the second half, Rachel Kelly, Lauren Fagan and Kiandra Howarth were also remarkable.

One can only wonder why, after some fine, imaginative staging in the first act, they chose such horrendous costumes for the scene from Bizet’s Les Pêcheurs de Perles. That, together with purely melodramatic, forced acting, distracted me from the singing (by Samuel Dale Johnson and Lauren Fagan), which was rather interesting – even brilliant at times. Compensation came from the delicate, deeply dramatic performance delivered by Rachel Kelly in a scene from Berlioz’s La Damnation de Faust. Her minimalist but emotional approach to Marguerite was one of the treats of the afternoon. The performance closed with scenes from Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette, sung by Operalia contestant Kiandra Howarth and Luis Gomes as the infamous lovers. It is safe to say Howarth delivered the best performance of the afternoon, showing a great delicacy and power as Juliette. On the other hand Gomes, even though he does a terrific job in Falstaff, felt slightly awkward in the role of Roméo and was again hindered by the ever-present risible acting.

Performances like this are a perfect showcase for these artists that are starting their professional careers. Even though some of them have performed in smaller roles in several productions, or have covered main roles, it is now that we have the chance to see them properly in action, and they do not disappoint. However, it is a shame that their performances are burdened by imprecise directing, leaving them stranded in over-acted, over-dramatic scenes that made many audience members cringe.

JPYA Summer Performance: Betrothal and Betrayal played at the Royal Opera House on 18 July. For more information, see the Royal Opera House website. Photo by Clive Barda.