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, February 12, 2014


Pureum Jo, Mario Chang, Alexey Lavrov and Ying Fang in L'Elisir d'Amore (photo by Nan Melville)
A satisfying synergy results when The Metropolitan Opera's Lindemann Young Artist Development Program partners with The Juilliard School.  We fondly recall the operas of seasons past and were sufficiently delighted by last night's entry, a concert of comic operas.  One of the major delights was hearing how the fine Juilliard Orchestra responded to the baton of our beloved James Levine.  Indeed the orchestra occupied the stage with the singers performing in a shallow space in front which unfortunately drowned out the voices on occasion.

We enjoyed lengthy scenes from four comic operas, two famous ones flanking two lesser known entries. The program opened with Act I of Mozart's Die Entf├╝hrung aus dem Serail, known in English as The Abduction from the Seraglio, a seraglio being a harem.  Tenor Andrew Stenson made an appealing Belmonte, arriving at Pasha Selim's landhaus to find his dear Konstanze (the always excellent Ying Fang).  Bass-baritone Ryan Speedo Green turned in an hilarious performance as the gruff Osmin who denies entry to Belmonte.  Tenor Benjamin Bliss portrayed the wily servant Pedrillo in as fine a portrayal of this role as we have heard.  Baritone Jake Alan Nelson seemed to be the only undergraduate on the program but was excellent in the role of Pasha Selim.

Igor Stravinsky's one act satire Mavra brought Daniel Stewart to the podium to conduct the arresting score, notable for its unusual combination of instruments, heavy on the winds and light on the strings.  He was highly successful at bringing out the idiosyncratic harmonies and unpredictable rhythms.  It has been a bit over a year since we saw Mavra performed by the Mannes School of Music and we are compelled to say that the staging and costumes made it seem funnier than last night's performance.  The work was performed in English which we found unsatisfying due to the verbal accents colliding with the musical accents.  Nonetheless, Mary-Jane Lee sang beautifully as Parasha, the wayward daughter of the bourgeois Mother who is moaning about the loss of her cook.  What a pleasure to hear the divine Margaret Lattimore in that role with another fine mezzo-soprano Lacey Jo Benter as The Neighbor.  Mr. Bliss reappeared as the Hussar who gains access to the house by donning drag and getting hired as the new servant.

Benvenuto Cellini may not have the most interesting plot but Berlioz' muscular music is riveting and Maestro Levine marshalled the forces of the large orchestra to great effect.  The brief appearance of superb bass-baritone Brandon Cedel was nearly submerged in the huge avalanche of sound.  But Ms. Fang's focused upper register cut right through in Teresa's aria, as did Anthony Kalil's terrific tenor as the eponymous hero.  Their love duet was, well, lovely.  Baritone Yunpeng Wang provided comic relief as the rejected lover Fieramosca, eavesdropping and slithering along the floor.

The program ended with a scene from Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amore, the scene in which Nemorino purchases his love potion from Dulcamara and proceeds to get inebriated.  Tenor Mario Chang excelled as the unfortunate imbiber with Mr. Green, in cloak and top hat, employing his big booming bass as the wily Doctor D.  Nemorino's rival was sung by baritone Alexey Lavrov who put his own stamp on the role of Sergeant Belcore.  Soprano Pureum Jo sang the role of Adina's friend Gianetta and Adina herself was performed by Ying Fang whose bel canto technique is impressive, filled with thrills and trills and pinpoint scale passages.

Although our preference would have been for a fully staged opera we were pleased to have the opportunity to hear some of our favorite young singers essaying new territory.  And as we said at the start, the orchestra blew us away.

© meche kroop

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