A sense of joy pervaded the building when the Royal Northern College of Music, as part of its 50th birthday celebrations, held an opera gala with alumni guest singers and the Orchestra of Opera North, backed by the RNCM Opera Chorus.

It was a privilege to be part of this glittering occasion which comprised a staged performance with the orchestra and chorus on stage and singers belting out a wide selection of excerpts ranging from Mozart to Verdi.

The RNCM building has played a meaningful part of my own history in Manchester as I worked for nearly 30 years next door. To save the blushes of my former employers, I shall refer to it as ‘The Other Place’. The music college often provided me with sanctuary and sustenance. Just as The Other Place was cutting back on staff facilities, I would often go to the RNCM canteen where the air was full of music and the black pudding barm cakes full of nutrition and brown sauce. Once, in a tedious Post-it note consulting session, we were asked to come up with ways to attract more post graduate students. I suggested that we look to our illustrious neighbours and rename ourselves The Royal Northern College of Art. If I have any gripe with the RNCM, it’s when it knocked down the gloriously grubby Lloyds pub to build the new library extension. As the song goes, I took some comfort there.  

But back to the opera. The evening kicked off with a rousing overture from Wagner’s Die Meistersinger Von Nurnberg, all thunder and passion. A lighter and funny extract form The Marriage of Figaro followed, and the first act finished with Opus 59 from act three of Der Rosenkavalier by Richard Strauss. Every performer was exquisitely dressed, but it would be remiss of me not to say how stunning Rebecca von  Lipinski’s electric blue gown was as she sang the part of Die Feldmarschallin. Her dress was matched by her stunning voice.  

After being really spoilt with chilled wine and ice cream tubs at the principal’s reception, act two began with Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin (Opus 24). It gently eased the audience into a roaring Carmen and a blistering finale of Falstaff by Verdi (act one, scene two, act three finale). Garry Walker conducted with a gusto that was a pleasure to watch as he was freed from the depths of the orchestra pit to take centre stage. The orchestra played with power and precision as the chorus added the sound that always makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand in awe. The entire production felt special without spilling over into the overblown. It was restrained, elegant and as dignified as any 50-year-old should be.

In my 10 years as Opera Correspondent for Northern Soul, I have seen about 11 student productions at the college. All of them have been brilliant, bristling with professionalism at every turn. It is a testimony to the enthusiasm and guidance of the many staff of the last 50 years, the people you don’t see, who have built the lasting reputation of the college. Long may it continue. My only regret is that I won’t be here to see its centenary. Bravi tutti, congratulations and happy birthday. 

By Robert Hamilton, Opera Correspondent

All images courtesy of the RNCM

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For more information about the RNCM and its 50th year events programme, click here