The Tenth Anniversary of the Royal Opera House’s Jette Parker Young Artists Scheme is a landmark of no small size. This summer performance brought back some of the best singers it has produced for a semi-staged rendition of Rossini’s one-act 1825 opera Il Viaggio a Reims. It was a celebratory display of virtuoso held together with a generous dose of self-indulgence.

Unusually, the Royal Opera House orchestra pit was left empty. Instead, the players occupied the capacious stage and all eighteen singers stood with music stands at stage front. The music tonight was signature Rossini opera buffa: shot through with humour, witty undertones and virtuosic vocal lines. Commissioned for the coronation of Charles X of France, this is an especially demanding work with a curious plot which reflects political relations and preconceptions between Europeans. But the point of this performance was not so much the plot, nor even the opera, but its function as a showcase for the young singers, even if they are already at various stages of development in their careers.

Several stood out; predictably those with the most years’ experience beyond the JPYA scheme. Russian Soprano Marina Poplavskaya strutted her way through several arias as poetess Corrina. True to form, she had a formidable presence. But she exuded businesswoman rather than love-proclaiming Roman poet in her grey suit, an effect exemplified by the sharp edge which often characterises her sound. Poplavskaya clearly loves the spotlight, and is winsome in it, but was not at her best in terms of precision or control on this occasion. She possesses great power and provides frequent glimpses of a warmer tone, but sometimes lacks finesse, especially at the top of her range.

Somewhat more consistent was New Zealand soprano Madeleine Pierard, who just keeps on gaining confidence and technical prowess. Tonight she showed this in her role as La Contessa di Folleville, who faints when her clothes are lost because of an overturned coach (the equivalent, perhaps, of a mishap en route to baggage reclaim). It wasn’t just her diva-ish red dress and diamante necklace which dazzled, but also convincing acting and the ability to make fiendish passages seem unlaboured. Conductor Daniele Rustioni’s brilliant command of his orchestra extended to similarly convincing acting when she pretended to faint across his podium!

Even Pierard's talents were exceeded by the charming and vocally dexterous soprano Ailish Tynan. Tynan stole the show with numerous passages of glittering coloratura as Madama Cortese. One of the earliest Jette Parker Young Artists – from 2002-4 – she has become a name to conjure with on the Covent Garden stage and many others, and for good reason. Next to her and Poplavskya, Ji Hyun Kim’s golden-toned tenor (Don Prudenzio) was simply too quiet – as it has been at previous JPYA performances.

Tonight’s lower male voices, on the other hand, were top class. Without mentioning each individual by name, it’s fair to say that there was a theme of reliable, musical singing with Rossini’s technical obstacles well surmounted. British baritone Daniel Grice was impressive as the cheeky Antonio and bass Lukas Jakobski made effortless work of some impressively fast text. It’s no surprise when Matthew Rose delivers a solid, richly-toned and perfectly intonated bass performance, and tonight, he added subtle humour to the list. He was particularly fine form in a deadpan and oh-so-British ‘God Save Our Gracious King’ as the evening drew to a close. His was a static performance – but then, he was playing a stereotype of stiff-upper-lip Britishness as part of a string of national anthems in the closing scene. The rousing finale concludes that Charles X of France is the ‘winning’ subject, a glaring reference to the occassion for which Il viaggio a Reims was composed.

Out of a mixture of past and present JPYAs, the ‘past’ cohort made their voices heard the loudest – often quite literally. The group’s balance was an effective one, however, and they all made their mark on a musically complex and narratively incomprehensible opera. One came away with the impression of having listened to an overblown concert with some fine moments of comedic acting – involving the conductor at times – rather than an opera. But as the whole company joined forces for the finale, it was clear that the standard reached by the JYPAs, whatever their age or stage of career, is high.

Il Viaggio a Reims, in concert, at Royal Opera HouseKaty S Austin reviews Il Viaggio a Reims at the Royal Opera House with singers from the Jette Parker Young Artists Scheme over the last 10 years.4