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.

Monday, May 12, 2014


Gyu Yeon Shim, Rachael Braunstein, Jimin Lee, Margaret Newcomb, Paull-Anthony Keightley
Whether any mothers of these five promising artists were in the audience we do not know.  But if they were, we are quite sure they would have been proud of their offspring who are finishing up their year at Manhattan School of Music--some graduating and others finishing their first post-graduate year, two of them familiar to us and three of them new.  We were happy to be a maternal stand-in.

Collaborative pianist Jimin Lee demonstrated consummate expressiveness in her playing and admirable flexibility working with diverse materials and singers with varied styles.  It was a program designed, we believe, to show off these qualities.

Mr. Keightley (does that rhyme with knightly?) whose Papageno we so greatly admired, showed a very different side of himself in Schumann's profound song cycle Dichterliebe.  His German diction was just about perfect and allowed us to give his performance our full attention, instead of looking at translations.  But Mr. Keightley's attention was divided between his score and his audience.  It would not be honest to deny that this was distracting.  We are sure there was a good reason for it but we have criticized some very famous singers for this misdemeanor.  Granted, it is NOT a felony!

He has a fine baritone and uses it well.  We particularly enjoyed the livelier songs like "Die Rose, die Lilie, die Taube, die Sonne" and "Aus alten Märchen winkt es".  Both baritone and piano shared a lovely crescendo and decrescendo in "Ich hab' in Traum geweinet".  The sense of drama in "Die alten, bösen Lieder" was in fine contrast with a lovely pianissimo.

It is too early to assign a singer to a particular category but, at this point, we will offer an opinion that Mr. K. belongs on the opera stage where his larger-than-life personality and agility can achieve full expression.  Perhaps grim material is too restraining.

Soprano Gyu Yeon Shim had only three songs to touch our heart and she succeeded.  She sang Amy Marcy Cheney Beach's Three Browning Songs, op. 44.  She has a light and well-focused soprano with a pleasing vibrato and sings without visible effort.  We were especially fond of "I send my heart up to thee!"

Mezzo Rachael Braunstein sang Three Songs, op.45 by Samuel Barber with a rich sound and fine diction.  We favored "A green lowland of pianos" in which she captured all the surreal humor that the poet (Czeslaw Milosz) had in mind.  We believe Milosz' verse was based on that of the Polish Jerzy Harasymowicz.

Closing the program was soprano Margaret Newcomb who pleases us every time she performs.  She sang selections from Kurt Weill's The Seven Deadly Sins.  She succeeded in bringing out the drama of the two Anna's by employing different voices.  She did particularly well acting out the seductiveness of "Pride" with a louche appearing Mr. Keightley.  We would someday love to hear her sing the entire roster of Sins--and we would especially love it if she sang Brecht's original text in German.  We are not sure whose translation was used but we felt a disjunction between the words and the musical phrasing.  This is so often the case and begs for presentation in the original language to avoid such awkwardness.

It was a fine recital and we look forward to future hearings of these promising artists.

© meche kroop

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