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VERDI, Aida: City of Manchester Opera, The Bruntwood Theatre, Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, 16 July 2005 (RJF)


Aida, Jayne Carpenter (soprano); Radames, Nick Hardy (tenor); Amonasro, Wayne Holt (baritone); Amneris, Joan Horsfield (mezzo); Ramfis, Barry Wright (bass)


The Chorus and Orchestra of The City of Manchester Opera, Cond Carl Penlington-Williams.



As I noted in my review of the Hallé Opera Prom from the Bridgewater Hall on July 9th, Manchester is by and large an opera desert. Thirty years ago there were regular visits from Welsh National Opera, Glyndebourne Touring Opera, English National Opera North and Covent Garden to go with the highly professional presentations of the Royal Northern College of Music. In recent years the latter, together with visits from Ellen Kent’s variable East European companies have provided Mancunians with very restricted operatic opportunities. The fledgling City of Manchester Opera evolved from North West Opera, a group of singers working with Carl Penlington-Williams as their coach and conductor. Penlington-Williams started his career as a chorister at St Asaph Cathedral before moving to South Wales where he worked with Welsh National Opera as singer and accompanist. In 1997 Carl joined the RNCM and also began to develop his conducting career. Four years ago North West Opera combined with the now defunct Wilmslow Opera to give two widely admired concert performances of Aida in Wilmslow and Stockport under Penlington-Williams’ baton. The combined choirs of the two companies were sonorous and vibrant with the sheer numbers of basses being particularly welcome compared with this performance, where the male chorus were rather undernourished for this opera. The earlier performance scored also in the professionalism of the soloists many currently occupied during the festival season at Country House Opera and elsewhere.


Jayne Carpenter as the eponymous heroine of Verdi’s masterpiece was the common factor between the earlier performances and this present one. She trained at the Royal Northern College, was a finalist in the Ferrier competition and represented England in the Cardiff Singer of the World Competition. Her voice is now that of a true lyrico spinto that the role of Aida needs.  She has maintained the lyric soprano’s ability to fine the voice down to the most graceful sotto voce singing, held on the breath and with steady legato. To those skills she has added powerful lower tones for biting declamatory passages and the ability to soar high above the orchestra and not shrink from the dramatic demand of ‘Ritorna vincitor and the climactic note in ‘O patria mia. Her singing in all respects would have graced any platform and matched any partners. The Northwest in general and Manchester and its environs have been fortunate to have heard her as Abigaile (Nabucco), Turandot and particularly the Verdi Requiem in recent years.


As the anti-heroine Amneris, Joan Horsfield was most appealing of voice, legato and expression, despite her lovely lyric mezzo not quite having the power in the lower notes for the trail scene. On the male side the solo singing did not match up to these standards. Nick Hardy as Radames was dry toned and sorely stretched by the demands of Radames with lumpy phrasing and lack of expression compounding an unsympathetic portrayal. Barry Wright as Ramfis was over parted, lacking the lower notes of a true bass and the consequent sonority. Wayne Holt was a very late substitute as Amonasro and made a good shot at a difficult part. He must be careful not to sing through his tone.


Carl Penlington-Williams paced the work rather carefully giving his soloists space for expression and phrasing and without losing dramatic momentum. The orchestral textures were clear although the violins were a bit wiry and the lower strings could have done with more body and perhaps bodies. None the less he has a good feel for the Verdian idiom that should stand him in good stead in his professional life.


Both the Gala Concert of last December and the concert performance of Rigoletto of the previous April were of a considerably higher standard than this Aida. Both involved more professional soloists that were available for this Aida and it showed. Not every step is forward for young companies whose members will doubtless learn without getting disheartened. The audience were privileged to hear one outstanding interpretation. I have paid big money and attended performances of Verdi’s operas by august companies where that was not true.



Robert J Farr



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