Victoria dazzles with summer sizzler

Mezzo Victoria Gray, right, who hosted a 'Summer Serenades' concert at the Samworth Church Academy on Sunday, is pictured with soprano  Natalie Montakhab, centre, Katy Griffin and accompanist Michael Neaum.

Mezzo Victoria Gray, right, who hosted a 'Summer Serenades' concert at the Samworth Church Academy on Sunday, is pictured with soprano Natalie Montakhab, centre, Katy Griffin and accompanist Michael Neaum.

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Former Cantamus singing star Victoria Gray has sung in front of the Queen and wowed an 82,000-strong crowd at last year’s FA Cup Final -- but said she was nervous at appearing in front of a home audience again.

That was before she headed to Mansfield on Sunday, but any such doubts were ill-founded as she, and her guests, dazzled and delighted at her’ Summer Serenades’ concert at the Samworth Church Academy.

Victoria (27), who has studied for eight years at London’s prestigious Royal College of Music, is now concentrating on her long-held ambition of becoming an opera singer after she and fellow members of the classical crossover group Amore decided to work on solo projects.

That aim seems just a matter of time as Victoria showed her focus and years of training with Cantamus with a varied summer evening of music that spanned a sassy temptress in Bizet’s ‘Carmen’ to a finale encore of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ from ‘Carousel.’

Joining her in concert was Lancashire-born Natalie Montakhab whose clear and expressive soprano timbre blended so well with mezzo Victoria in Delibes’ ‘Flower Duet’ from ‘Lakme,’ made famous or infamous as the British Airways ad.

Their individual talents were again well matched in the duet ‘Sull’aria’ from Mozart’s ‘The Marriage of Figaro’ and Offenbach’s ‘Bararolle’ while Natalie, who has a busy schedule ahead in ‘La Boheme’ with Headfirst Opera and Welsh National Opera’s ‘William Tell,’ showcased two Puccini showstoppers.

They included the scheming Lauretta’s aria ‘O Mio Babbino Caro’ (‘O my beloved Daddy’) from ‘Gianni Schicci’ and the attention-seeking Musetta’s waltz song ‘Quando Me’n Vo’ (‘As I walk alone through the street) from ‘La Boheme’ rounded off by an impromptu extra of ‘Summertime’ from ‘Porgy and Bess.’

The “feisty women” theme of the concert was underscored with Victoria’s triple treat of songs from Schumann’s ‘Fruauenliebe und leben’ (‘A woman’s love and life’), an obvious favourite of both singer and accompanist Michael Neaum, contrasted with more modern fare in ‘Send in the Clown’ from Sondheim’s ‘A Little Night Music’ and ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ from ‘Les Miserables.’

Completing the line-up was Katy Griffin, who had auditioned for ‘The Voice,’ and has been studying with Victoria since February. In that short time she seems to have found a new confidence and, with guitar accompaniment from Marty Wilson, gave a sultry rendition of the Peggy Lee standard ‘Fever’ followed by the plaintive ‘Danny Boy.’

Victoria is now looking forward to September, and two important steps in her life and career. They include her marriage to fiancé Sam Orgizovic, captain of Kimberley Cricket Club, at St Margaret’s Church in her home village of Bilsthorpe, on Saturday 20th -- the same month as she joins English National Opera’s highly sought-after young artist programme.

The larger world of opera may beckon, but Victoria still has her feet on the ground, and in true star fashion found time to show her appreciation to her local audience by manning the exit door to thank each and everyone as they headed home.