The current crop of Jette Parker Young Artists wouldn't have anticipated a pandemic ruining their first steps into a professional career. Nevertheless, they've kept themselves busy, adapting better than most to the medium of film – indeed, their recent Weill double bill was one of the highlights of the virtual season. Gratifyingly, they've been allowed a live audience for their annual summer performance, and have prepared one of the most ambitious programmes the JPYA has seen: big opera for big voices.

Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha
© Ellie Kurttz

Director Isabelle Kettle moves from strength to strength, drawing fine acting from all of the singers even within the confines of Es Devlin's labyrinthine rotating Don Giovanni set. Performances of opera scenes can often feel disjointed, rapidly shifting languages, musical styles and time periods within minutes. Kettle keeps each singer in the same costume throughout, as if all of the operas were simultaneously occurring in the same world. It was stylishly done, subtle and without feeling forced.

The most enchanting moment came with the balcony scene from Gounod's Roméo et Juliette, with just a few filamented lightbulbs punctuating the darkness like stars – the perfect atmosphere for tenor Egor Zhuravskii and soprano Alexandra Lowe to fall hopelessly in love. Their performances as the famous star-crossed lovers could happily grace any major opera house, Zhuravskii's warm lyric tenor blending beautifully with Lowe's exquisitely silvery sound. In the Orsini-Gennaro duet from Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia, mezzo Stephanie Wake-Edwards impressed with her fearless coloratura and fluent textual command, tearing up the stage with her trusty bottle of wine. In comparison, tenor Filipe Manu's bright tenor sounded underpowered apart from a few spectacularly long high notes. JPYA conductor Michael Papadopoulos led a confident account of the Donizetti, beautifully following the ebb and flow of the score.

Alexandra Lowe and Egor Zhuravskii
© Ellie Kurttz

But it was the promise of Sir Mark Elder conducting Verdi that we were all here to see. The performance was bookended by Act 2 scene 2 of the five-act French Don Carlos and Act 1 scene 2 of Falstaff. This ambitious undertaking was clearly a vehicle for soprano Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha, whose luminous spinto promises a Verdian star. Indeed, she has the ideal voice for Elisabeth, with her gorgeously opulent sound, fierce chest voice, and floated pianissimi. If she was a touch anonymous dramatically in the role, she had no such inhibitions as Alice, where she neatly dispatched the wordy text with flair and a great sense of physical comedy.

JPYA members
© Ellie Kurttz

The other future Verdian star was tenor Andrés Presno who, despite only having been cast in lighter roles thus far, displayed an impressive squillo as Don Carlos that rang through the entire theatre – a name to keep an eye on. Bass Blaise Malaba certainly has the voice for Philippe, booming and resonant, with a lovely sense of line, but currently lacks the authority and textual specificity needed for the confrontation with Rodrigue. The opposite was true for JPYA alumnus Gyula Nagy's Rodrigue, whose beautiful lyric baritone is a size too small for the role but compensated with keen dramatic and textual instincts. Mezzo-soprano Kseniia Nikolaieva recovered from a bumpy rendition of Eboli's Veil Song to give an irresistibly funny Mistress Quickly, her booming dramatic mezzo surprisingly adept at comedy. The rest of the young artists returned to join in the madcap fun under Elder's watchful baton, Wake-Edwards' charismatic Meg and Lowe's delectable Nannetta the standouts. This was a hugely ambitious undertaking for a promising group of artists. The future of opera, whatever that may look like, will be in good hands.