Former Jette Parker artists, who receive training and singing opportunities at Covent Garden, include sopranos Lauren Fagan and Ailish Tynan, mezzo-soprano Hanna Hipp, tenors Alfie Boe and David Butt Philip, baritones Jacques Imbrailo and Ashley Riches, and bass Matthew Rose.
Catching the latest batch of young artists is therefore a bonus of the Royal Opera House's Phaedra, the piece that its composer called a 'concert opera'. Given a rare and thrilling performance in the Linbury Theatre by the stars of the future, Henze's fast-moving piece, as intricate and well-balanced as a clock mechanism, makes huge demands on its singers, and its five performers prove to be completely in command.
Hongni Wu in the title role of Phaedra. Photo: Bill Cooper
Henze, who died at 86 in 2012, surprised the music world with the late composition, given its first performance in 2007, several years after what had been billed as his last opera. The first production had atmospheric sets by Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson. This swansong sums up a lifetime's experience, and contains a warning for future generations about compulsively and aggressively pursuing a lost cause that rings true in today's churning world.
The action is played out first against the backdrop of the sinister Labyrinth of the Minotaur, and then in an Italian grove. The goddesses Artemis and Aphrodite weave in and out of the unravelling story, and the man-bull Minotaur (Michael Mofidian) finally utters in a voice fitting of the underworld.
The libretto is by the German composer's countryman Christian Lehnert, its intense and colourful expressions mostly helpfully and poetically rendered into English in the Linbury in the surtitles by Yehuda Shapiro. But you would no more listen out for traditional detailed plotting in this work than expect botanical drawing from an abstract painter. Instead here is a complex and suggestive canvas, a dense soundscape shot through with musical allusions.
The menacing Minotaur is sung by Michael Mofidian. Photo: Bill Cooper
Complementing this score, both rich and compact, is the showtime set by takis and simply glamorous costumes, sapphire blue in the first half, fiery orange in the aftermath.
In the title role, as the woman taken over by an obsessive and destructive infatuation with her stepson Hippolytus is the vocally and physically agile Chinese-born mezzo- soprano Hongni Wu. The New Zealander-Tongan tenor Filipe Manu as the object of her unfortunate desires is already impressive, and is yet to join the scheme in September.
American counter-tenor Patrick Terry, who has already made an impression as Arsace in Berenice, is equally fleet of foot and voice as Artemis and is one to watch on all occasions. Jacquelyn Stucker, an imposing Aphrodite leaves the Jette Parker scheme soon and heads for Deutsche Oper Berlin.
Counter-tenor Patrick Terry, here as Artemis, is one to watch at Covent Garden. Photo: Bill Cooper
The Southbank Sinfonia is one of London's niftiest orchestras, and a perfect fit for this sometimes jazzy, sometimes filmic, always kaleidoscopic score, conductor Edmund Whitehead impressively spinning all these plates at once.
Jette Parker Young Artist Noa Naamat has that rare quality among opera directors today: she knows that less is more, and never meddles when the music, libretto, lighting designer (Lee Curran) and artists are getting on with their job. That restraint bodes very well for the flourishing of other works on her watch.
Lots to look forward to from the Jette Parker alumni, in short. Catch this remarkable work, and you will see what I mean.
Phaedra is sung in German with English surtitles. Further performances are on 18 and 20 May
|What||Phaedra review , Royal Opera House, Linbury Theatre|
|Where||Royal Opera House, Bow Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9DD | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Covent Garden (underground)|
15 May 19 – 20 May 19, one interval
|Website||Click here for more information and booking|