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The RNCM has found some lively performers for its children's chorus, and most of director Stefan Janski's chorus tableaux (the RNCM's current Director of Opera Studies, Janski made an equally splendid job of the RNCM's recent Falstaff) -- a series of refined and varied vignettes -- worked well. More importantly, trained by Russell Medley, and splendidly costumed, they sang with real rhythmic punch, although some of the voices, tenors not least, were so strong that it sometimes sounded more like a band of soloists rather than a honed and unified sound; but then crowds are like that.

Both the exquisite scene 2 two girls' duet and the ensuing girl servants' chorus seemed to stem directly from Moniuszko, whose pioneering Slav operas Tchaikovsky knew well. Sally Johnson's Liza provided a lovely voice, equally rich and fruity in solo work. Doreen Curran's Polina seemed a little cloudier, although rather fine in lower registers. The scene three staged pastoral interlude, while lacking the shivering implications of Richard Jones's eerie WNO tabletop puppets, was ably sung.

Anne-Marie Gibbons (Countess) and Hubert Francis (Hermann) in Act III Scene 2 of 'The Queen of Spades'

Anne-Marie Gibbons's countess was the plum. A Peter Moores Foundation scholar, and eminently deserving of that, she was heard last year as Mistress Quickly in the RNCM's riveting Falstaff, and made a wonderful, ghoulish, pasty-faced crone. Her big Act Two aria, spiked by nervy cellos and bassoon, was magnificent; indeed at times, both in demeanour and in timbres, one felt Josephine Barstow herself was singing the role -- shades of an ageing Elizabeth I, coupled with Kathryn Hunter's searing old lady in Dürrenmatt's The Visit (a play later set by Gottfried von Einem in a brilliant and grotesquely neglected opera). Pitted against Gibbons's crone, Hermann's anticipatory stillnesses were positively terrifying.

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Copyright © 19 April 2002 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK




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