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.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


Brandon Cedel, Sydney Mancasola, Michael Brandenberg, Rebecca Pedersen, Musa Ngqungwana and Thomas Richards
The anxiety and tension among the finalists was matched by that of audience members.  Everyone had their favorites and celebrated when their choices were ratified by the judges.  But oh, how they lamented when the judges overlooked their favorites in favor of a singer they deemed less worthy.  One never knows what the judges are looking for but we know who we like.

Let it be said that the six "winners" were all superb but the four who weren't chosen were also winners.  Making it to the finals after the laborious nationwide process of elimination is a big win and we celebrate the four who were not chosen as well as the six who were.

The afternoon was glorious; hearing ten young artists in their 20's singing with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, led by Maestro Marco Armiliato, as well as experiencing the hosting of the glamorous soprano Sondra Radvanovsky and the stellar baritone Eric Owens justified the price of admission.

No one could have quarreled with the choice of bass-baritone Brandon Cedel;  he showed a gorgeously textured vibrato in "Vi ravviso" from Bellini's La Sonnambula and spun out the luscious long phrases with fine style.  In the second half, he gave a passionate performance of "Aleko's Cavatina" from Rachmaninoff's eponymous opera.

Equally riveting was another bass-baritone Thomas Richards who sang Claggart's aria "Oh Beauty" from Britten's Billy Budd, getting every ounce of drama from the many colors of his voice as well as appropriate gesture.  In the second half of the program, he delivered a rolicking "La calunnia" from Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia, for which one did not need any translation.

Yet a third bass-baritone, Musa Ngqungwana, impressed with his "Riez, allez" from Massenet's Don Quichotte and later sang "Vi ravviso" which we preferred.  With so many bass-baritones on the program, we got to hear a few arias repeated.

The lone tenor, Michael Brandenburg, produced some lovely colors in "É la solita storia del pastore" from Cilea's L'Arlesiana and invested "Lenski's Aria" from Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin with a similar depth of feeling.

Soprano Sydney Mancasola seemed a bit wan in "Salut à la France" from Donizetti's La Fille du Regiment, but more than made up for it in the second half with a "Caro Nome" from Verdi's Rigoletto marked by a brilliant vibrato.

Most astonishing of all was the 21-year-old soprano Rebecca Pedersen, still a sophomore at Brigham Young University.  She has a sizable voice and plenty of stage poise as she sang "Pleurez, mes yeux" from Massenet's "Le Cid" and opened up readily in the second half with a stunning "Stridono lassù" from Leoncavallo's Pagliacci.

While waiting for the judge's decision we heard Ms. Radvanovsky and Mr. Owens tell about their experience with the Met Finals many years ago.  Ms. Radvanosky gave a most exciting performance of "Pace, pace, mio Dio" from our favorite neglected Verdi opera La Forza del Destino.

We shall not end without some appreciate words for the five runners-up.  We greatly admired bass-baritone Richard Ollarsaba's "Se vuol Ballare" from Mozart's  Le Nozze de Figaro.  Baritone Efraín Solís  had a marvelously accurate fioritura in an aria from Handel's Rodelinda.  Bass Matthew Anchel showed off some stirring low notes in "Il lacerato spirito" from Verdi's Simon Boccanegra.  Soprano Tracy Cox showed a lovely messa di voce in "Morrò ma prima in grazia" from Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera.

The National Council has been scouting young singers from all over the country for sixty years now and we wish them sixty more.

(c) meche kroop

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