Matthew Ball, Mayara Magri, Within the Golden Hour by Christopher Wheeldon photo by Ruairi Watson ROH 2020

Live from Covent Garden, second and third concerts 20 and 27 June

In the second of the Royal Opera House live concerts, we were given even less dance than in the first, with a tantalisingly short solo from Vadim Muntagirov, but the programme as a whole was indeed, a moving event. The lion’s share of the performance was devoted to Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde in a chamber orchestra version (arranged by Arnold Schoenberg and Rainer Riehn). Conducted by Antonio Pappano and with Dame Sarah Connolly and David Butt Philip singing mezzo-soprano and tenor respectively, it was a performance to remember. I was taken by surprise that the reduced orchestra, the intimate filming of each of the members, was incredibly inclusive and brought such clarity – inspiring a renewed pleasure in the work. Katherine Baker, playing the flute, was outstanding and Connolly and Butt Philip were nothing short of magnificent.

The set up of the orchestra on stage, socially distanced, meant that Muntagirov’s performance was pre-recorded – so ‘almost live’ – but not quite. He looks in remarkably good shape, all things considered, and Sir Frederick Ashton’s Dance of the Blessed Spirits, created for Anthony Dowell in 1978 as part of Gluck’s opera Orphée et Euridice, requires a dancer with supreme lyricism and  line. Thus, Muntagirov was in his element, reminding us how much we have missed him on stage. Nevertheless, for ballet followers out there, this felt like a mere morsel of hope and not enough to sustain us for very long.

Live from Covent Garden photo by Ruairi Watson ROH

The third concert was a much more cheerful occasion musically and we were offered two pas de deux.  It was a longer evening but more varied and in many ways, a more entertaining programme.  Some of the artists who appeared are part of the Jette Parker Young Artists Programme and between them gave some truly riveting performances. With Katie Derham hosting and interviewing, it was fascinating to learn a little about their backgrounds. The concert opened with a thrilling rendition of JS Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins in D minor with Vasko Vassilev and Sergey Levitin playing the violins and Patrick Milne on the harpsichord. Of the other many items on the programme I especially enjoyed mezzo-soprano Stephanie Wake-Edwards in Handel’s ‘Where shall I fly?’ (Hercules) and her duet with Filipe Manu from Leoncavallo’s La bohème. Both possess tremendous voices combined with vibrant and engaging personalities. Blaise Malaba and Manu were breathtaking in Rossini’s ‘Ah! mi perdo mi confondo’ (L’Italiana in Algeri) which Malaba, who is from Kinshasa in the Congo, described as being a bit like rap, Rossini style. Extraordinary to discover that he is doing a PhD in international economic relations in Ukraine and that this was his debut on the Royal Opera House stage!  Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha sang a stunning ‘Summertime’ (Porgy and Bess) but fared less well in ‘Bess, you is my woman now’ – her duet with Malaba. Andrés Presno was superb singing Sorazabal’s ‘No puede ser’ (La tabernera del puerto) and the whole group came together to sing the well-known, very high-spirited drinking song, Brindisi from La Traviata at the close.

Reece Clarke and Fumi Kaneko in Concerto, photo by Ruairi Watson ROH 2020
Live from Covent Garden (rehearsal), Blaise Malaba and Filipe Manu, Edmund Whitehead, ROH 2020

In between, it was the turn of Mayara Magri and Matthew Ball to deliver the most exquisite pas de deux from Christopher Wheeldon’s Within the Golden Hour. Dedicated to the composer Ezio Bosso, who died last month, as the camera swept over the two dancers faces at the start of the duet, their expressions filled with wonder, they appeared to cast a spell. It is the most touching, heart-melting choreography, and on this occasion, danced to absolute perfection. In the second pas de deux, Fumi Kaneko and Reece Clarke performed the central pas de deux from MacMillan’s Concerto. Ideally cast, these two long-limbed, graceful dancers gave the choreography all the majesty and lyricism one could hope for. It was good to hear Kevin O’Hare being positive about the dancers slowly returning to Opera House to train next month, as the thought of being drip fed a diet of the odd solo or pas de deux does not feel like a tolerable solution for anyone.  What these live concerts have done is whet the appetite for a steady return to some sort of normality and that while artists across the globe are fighting to get back into theatres and their art forms, audiences are equally hungry, desperate even, to show their full appreciation.

Deborah Weiss