Loose morals, bullfighting, sorcery, vengeance and downright evil hit Hampstead Garden Suburbs on the second evening of the St Jude's Proms. Gail Pearson (soprano), Victoria Simmonds (mezzo-soprano), Rhys Meirion (tenor) and David Kempster (baritone) sped us through the full spectrum: tender romantic love ("Lippen Schweigen" from Lehar's The Merry Widow); seduction (Carmen's "Seguidilla"); vile malevolence ("Credo in un Dio Crudel" from Verdi's Otello) and pure frothy exuberance (Offenbach's "Celebrons Paris!" from La Vie Parisienne).
Whisking us along on this operatic tour was Toby Purser, who guided the London International Orchestra through delicate accompaniments one moment and rousing heartfelt soloistic playing the next. Any slight imperfections of ensemble or intonation did little to mar the colour and vitality of their performance. Beautifully stylish string playing set the scene for Lehar's "Lippen Schweigen" and the flute and harp duet in both the Carmen entr'acte and "Les Pecheurs de Perles" was touching and poised.
Indeed, it was the orchestra that opened the evening, bursting in with a glittering rendition of Glinka's Ruslan and Lyudmila Overture. Such exuberance set the scene perfectly for Gounod's graceful "Je Veux Vivre dans le Reve", sung with charm and animation by Gail Pearson, while David Kempster powerfully conveyed the internalised malevolence of "Credo in un Dio Crudel".
Victoria Simmonds was well received in Verdi's harrowing "Stride la Vampa", though she was at her most convincing in the spellbinding intent of Bizet's "Seguidilla", while Rhys Meirion offered a selection that included Gounod's "Ah! Leve-Toi, Soleil" from Romeo et Juliette and Verdi's "Questa O Quella".
The Pegasus Chorus's spirited singing punctuated the evening with a welcome change of timbre. It was a pity, though, that they were sometimes lost in the balance with the orchestra.
Duets and ensembles gave some variation in colour and "Les Pecheurs de Perles", sung by Rhys Meirion and David Kempster, was very well received.
In fact, the audience reflected back unreservedly the glittering animation of the evening, drawing forth the "Drinking Song" from Verdi's La Traviata as an encore. One might have been tempted to think that the second half was too long, but the audience (packed into every nook and cranny of this Grade I-listed Lutyens church) were clearly thinking no such thing.
Ends Sun (020-8458 1582)
Elizabeth Shepherd, professional pianist and vocal coach, London
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