Extraordinary Carmen caps off another strong year for Proms at St. Jude’s

Clare Presland sings Carmen at the Proms. Picture: Nigel Sutton

Clare Presland sings Carmen at the Proms. Picture: Nigel Sutton - Credit: Nigel Sutton

Not only was the event a fundraising success, it was also an artistic triumph, reports Michael White.

Now that the accounts are done, the collecting buckets emptied, and the dust settled on this year’s St Jude’s Proms, they’ve raised £60,000 for the charities that benefit from the event. As always, it’s a result that owes everything to the tireless work of Susie Gregson and her army of volunteers who run the show.

But the 2015 season was also an artistic success – starting as it meant to continue with a concert-Carmen of extraordinary (and frankly unexpected) impact.

Like most critics, I’ve sat through more than enough Carmens; but I can truly say that this one kept me onside and engaged. I cared about the characters. I was intrigued by the compelling personality of Clare Presland in the title role – as much a shrew as a seductress, with an edgy but exciting sound. And I admired the strength and technical assurance of the orchestra and chorus under Nicholas Chalmers, whose command of the score was unfaltering.

This concert was a sort of undress rehearsal before a full staging at the country-opera Nevill Holt. But it felt complete. And the relationship with Nevill Holt is clearly something that St Jude’s must develop.

Another asset this year was the St Jude’s debut of the Melos Sinfonia with their absurdly young but seriously talented conductor Oliver Zeffman. I’ve heard them play with more confidence than they did here in a programme of Debussy, Poulenc, Schubert, but it still had musicality. And the Francoise-Green Piano Duo raised the stakes with dazzling solo work in Poulenc’s Double Concerto: a piece of purposeful froth that had us dancing to the Pimms tent. Good memories.