We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


Vivica Genaux
Too long missing from the New York vocal scene while establishing herself as a major presence in Europe, glamorous mezzo Vivica Genaux graced the stage of the Morgan Library Sunday in the first of the season's George London Foundation recitals.  Long a fan of Ms. Genaux, we were delighted by the unique quality of her voice, her connection with the songs she selected, her stage poise and her manner of involvement with the audience.  She knows how to do it flawlessly and shows her stuff without any diva attitude.

Ms. Genaux has a liquid sound and a rich vibrato.  The flexibility and precision she demonstrated with the fioritura was like a lesson to those of us who sing.  Accompanied by the esteemed Craig Rutenberg, she delighted us with three Spanish songs by Rossini that are not often heard but which allowed her to demonstrate her subtle command of dynamics.

Three more songs by Pauline Viardot continued in the Spanish mood but included one in French, "Berceuse cosaque" in which Ms. Genaux demonstrated equal facility with the French style and  Mr. Rutenberg's pianism hauntingly evinced a Russian flavor.  These songs were almost unbearably sad.  It seemed just about right that her final Spanish selection, the lively "Zapateado" by Geronimo Gimenez from La Tempranica was a rapid patter song about being bitten by a tarantula and thus forced to dance.

Daniel Okulitch

Joining Ms. Genaux for the recital was bass-baritone Daniel Okulitch whose voice lent itself very well to his selections in Russian.  Georgy Vasilyevich Sviridov's "The Virgin in the City" was lovely although at times Mr. Rutenberg's piano overwhelmed his voice.  The lulling rhythms and tender ending were quite moving.    Sergei Rachmaninoff's "Cavatina of Aleko" was particularly well done and infused with Russian anguish which gave way to a tender messa di voce and back again to passion.

Mr. Okulitch seems to have a large investment in 20th c. songs in English, a taste which we do not share.  A W.B. Yeats poem "Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven" expresses a lovely sentiment; it rhymes but does not scan and none of the three composers who set it provided any kind of vocal line to please our ear.  Richard B. Evans' setting provided some lovely music for the piano; Thomas F. Dunhill's setting from an earlier period was more sentimental; Glen Roven's setting was filled with anxiety and dissonance.  Just not our taste.

Lowell Liebermann's "Good night" showed some fine legato singing but it was written with insufficient variety in the vocal line.  We are just not enchanted with our native tongue, especially with the semi-British pronunciation of the soft "a".  Ivor Gurney's "Sleep" permitted Mr. Okulitch to demonstrate his fine control of dynamics.

But it was in the closing number that we truly enjoyed Mr. O. when he and Ms. G. sang the well-known and well-loved duet from Mozart's Don Giovanni "La ci darem la mano".  The two singers were so relaxed and so connected with one another and having such a good time that the audience collectively grinned from ear to ear.  Mr. O. was properly lascivious and Ms. G. was adorably ambivalent.  The two voices in harmony provided all the delight to the ear for which one would wish.

The two artists chose a real winner for their encore--Irving Berlin's "I hear singing".  A little scene was invented in which Ms. G. enacted a psychiatric patient and Mr. O. portrayed her psychiatrist.  This is the type of music in which English is used to good advantage and left the audience humming on the way out.

(c) meche kroop

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