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.

Saturday, March 29, 2014


Alex McKissick, Nicolette Mavroleon
Kurt Kanazawa, Virginie Verrez, Laura Levoir, Jessine Johnson

Lachlan Glen, Theo Hoffman, Leann Osterkamp, Mary-Elizabeth O'Neill
A week of recitals at Juilliard have left us reeling with pleasure. There wasn't a mediocre singer in the bunch; all were promising but some seem to have a better sense of what suits their particular voices and interpretive skills.  It takes a lot of courage to introduce a new work or to choose songs that are rarely performed.  Sometimes a gem is discovered and sometimes we are left realizing why a particular work has been neglected.  (Anyone who has worked with Steven Blier knows of his gifts for choosing songs and finding the right singer to inhabit them.)

Let us begin with Theo Hoffman whose third-year undergraduate status tells us absolutely nothing about his prodigious talents.  His generous smoky baritone was heard twice on Thursday.  At the Vocal Arts Department's Liederabend (an all-Schumann program) he sang in perfect German four lovely lieder, perfectly modulated in volume and word-coloring.  He was accompanied by the fine Ari Livne.

And two hours later he was onstage at his third-year recital with the amazing Lachlan Glen (whose new CD we will be reviewing shortly) as piano partner, making music out of some songs in English that we did not expect to enjoy; it is testament to the talents of these two artists that we found ourselves loving the material.

Mr. Hoffman has preternatural stage poise and dramatic chops; he can really bring a song to life.  He drew selections from the oeuvre of Jonathan Dove, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Benjamin Britten, John Musto, Samuel Barber, Rufus Wainwright and Marc Blitzstein.  One cannot go wrong with poetry by Alfred Tennyson, Robert Louis Stevenson or William Butler Yeats.  But the big surprise was Rufus Wainwright's "True Loves" and Marc Blitzstein's "Stay in My Arms". Both men composed their own texts and both songs were pure delight.  As encore, Mr. Hoffman sang Noel Coward's "Uncle Harry", a reprise of his success at a recital at the National Opera Center. What fun!!!

Sharing the program was mezzo Mary-Elizabeth O'Neill whom we enjoyed in those wonderful Schubert songs from Gesänge aus Wilhelm Meister.  She was just the right interpreter for these songs of the mysterious Mignon.  We were somewhat less enchanted by her choice of Mirabai Songs, John Harbison's setting of texts by Robert Bly.  The writing for piano was difficult and dense, performed well by the fine collaborative pianist Leann Osterkamp, but the vocal line was spare and not melodic.  The work obviously meant a great deal to Ms. O'Neill but we found ourselves incapable of caring about the Hindu princess who left her family to devote herself body and soul to Lord Krishna, although Ms. O'Neill's diction in English was easily understood.

To return now to the all-Schumann Liederabend, we enjoyed baritone Kurt Kanazawa, accompanied by Joseph Yungen, having a great deal of fun with his choices.  His light and pleasing baritone sounded wonderful and seemed particularly suited to songs about seduction--"The Hidalgo" for example.  He is one of those singers who uses his body and facial expression to good advantage, as in his imitating the ladies of Seville with their fans and mantillas.  What a storyteller!

Soprano Laura LeVoir with her piano partner Zsolt Balogh sounded especially fine in "Der Sandmann", "Schmetterling" and "Schneeglöckchen", singing with lightness, delicacy and charm.

Jessine Johnson has a larger voice that was well suited to the tragic "Der Soldat" and the scary "Muttertraum".  The Rückert lied "Mein schöner Stern" was equally impressive.  Siyi Fang followed along with her as piano partner, contributing to the apt interpretations.

Mezzo Virginie Verrez, accompanied by Miles Fellenberg, undertook the very sad Gedichte der Königin Maria Stuart.  Her very textured voice was expressive and she demonstrated exquisite phrasing, dynamic control and word coloring.  We were moved and enthralled.

Soprano Nicolette Mavroleon and tenor Alex McKissick shared a third-year recital and made a fine showing, the most amazing part of which was their versatility.  Just a few days earlier we heard them both singing in a cabaret (also reviewed here) and were impressed with the ease with which they shifted gears.

We always love Dvořák and were thrilled that Ms. Mavroleon chose to sing a quartet of his songs, three of which were about unfulfilled love.  We especially loved the typical Czech melody of "My heart often becomes mournful".  Piano partner Valeriya Polunina captured the mood perfectly.

She also sang a Schubert concert aria in Italian that was filled with emotion--"Vedi quanto adoro ancora ingrato!"  How wonderful to discover a new side of Schubert; we would not have recognized it as Schubert.  Two songs by Rimsky-Korsakov followed and we were blown away by the erotic "A Midsummer Night's Dream".

Tenor Alex McKissick essayed selections from Die Schöne Müllerin which we have always considered to be best sung by a young man.  He conveyed enthusiasm and contentment, tenderness and exultation. We liked the way he changed color for the various voices in "Am Feierabend".

He has a facility for Spanish and did a fine job conveying the insecurity of the serenader in "Te quiero, Morena" from the zarzuela El Trust de los Tenorios by José Serrano.  José Padilla's "Princesita" had a lovely melody.  Raymond Wong was his able accompanist.

A week spent at Juilliard provided a lifetime of musical memories!

© meche kroop

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