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Seen and Heard Concert Review
Gala Concert by the Friends of the RNCM - in aid of the Barbara Robotham Award for Singers. Amanda Roocroft (sop); Jane Irwin (mezzo); Jeffrey Lloyd Roberts (ten); and current students of the college, all sometime pupils of Ms Robotham, Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester 19.1 2006 (RJF)
It used to be said eighty or so
years ago, and only partly tongue in cheek, that an opera house
manager seeking a tenor for a role in the Italian repertoire had
merely to do an evening tour round the cafes of Naples. Nowadays
Italian tenors are a rare breed and the Anglo Saxons, particularly
the British, fill many roles in all vocal registers at the best
opera house addresses. As Dennis Marks, sometime General Manager
at the ENO and elsewhere recently noted in Opera magazine
this has been a consequence of the standards of vocal teaching in
On the approach to her 70th
anniversary, the Friends of RNCM organised this concert to raise
money for a prize in Barbara Robotham’s name. She selected the items
to be sung and introduced each with a personal anecdote. These varied
from the deadly serious such as recounting her nervousness at singing
Britten’s songs with Peter Pears and the composer as accompanist,
to more lighthearted moments and aided by three distinguished alumni
and some current students the evening, was a feast of singing that
played to a full audience.
Other Roocroft items were a distinguished Song of the Moon, the long Act II duet from Madama Butterfly, including the lovely aria Un bel di, with Jane Irwin as Suzuki. Roocroft, slim of figure despite three children, sang full out and it is many moons indeed since Mancunians have heard such quality. That this was matched by Jane Irwin’s singing was a poignant reminder that the pair had sung these roles together at Covent Garden, watched by Barbara whose contribution was recognised by a seatin the Royal Box as a special guest. Jane Irwin was launched on the operatic world by the College’s 1994 production of Tchaikovsky’s Joan of Arc in which she sang the eponymous role and she now sings Wagner at some of the leading houses. Like all the pieces performed at this event, the singers acted their parts and sang to (and off) their partners in duets and trios. Jane and Amanda showed great animus in their contributions, as did Jeffrey Lloyd Roberts in his Peter Grimes’ soliloquy. His histrionic and vocal portrayal of the difficult piece portends well for his appearance with Opera North when they return to their home at the Leeds Grand Theatre later this year.
Of the students participating, Karina Lucas was a full toned Carmen in an acted and danced Seguidilla; Lloyd Roberts filling in the tenor phrases as well as unfastening the ropes binding Carmen’s hands. I would guess she has a good future. Christopher Turner and Claire Groom who sang the leads in the College’s recent La Rondine, also made worthwhile contributions but theirs is work clearly still in progress. Philip Smith was a promising young baritone whom I had not heard before but will look forward to doing so again. Enjoyable piano arrangements of operatic themes by Donizetti and Gounod were played with distinction by David Gowland and Roderick Barrand.
This was one of the most enjoyable evenings I have had at the RNCM for some time and it set me in good mood for the forthcoming vocal competitions. The Frederic Cox Award will help students continue their studies at the college, and the Elisabeth Harwood Award, worth £5000, is designed to help the winning survive at least the first year in a highly competitive and demanding profession. Looking at previous winners of these awards, and what they have gone on to achieve with the help of the grounding received at RNCM by teachers such as Barbara Robotham, winners should be able to enter the profession with every confidence.