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.

Friday, November 21, 2014


Martha Mingle and Theo Hoffman

We couldn't imagine a better way to spend "cocktail hour" than attending a Liederabend at Juilliard.  It is a golden opportunity to hear the stars of tomorrow. Indeed we have a rather substantial list of artists whom we first heard at a Juilliard Liederabend who are now onstage at the Metropolitan Opera and other renowned venues.

Last night we heard eight promising artists--four singers and four collaborative pianists--in a program of 20th c. English art songs.  Our 19th c. ears have never taken to 20th c. English or American songs but last night's recital brought us closer to a state of appreciation that we have ever experienced.

For this we credit the superb diction of all four singers whose phrasing and performance style made sense of the poetry.  Additionally, the composers on the program selected excellent texts to set.  Who would not love Thomas Hardy, W.H. Auden and Dante Gabriel Rossetti! Their poetry scans and rhymes and is well suited to musical elaboration.

Most impressive was baritone Theo Hoffman who formed a perfect partnership with pianist Martha Mingle.  They delivered a highly polished performance of three songs from Ralph Vaughan Williams' The House of Life.  Rossetti's poetry is highly romantic and Mr. Hoffman sang the songs with an economy of gesture but a lavish application of word-coloring and depth of expression.  Ms. Mingle seemed to breathe with him in a stunning duet.

We enjoyed Hannah McDermott, whose lovely mezzo voice we have admired before. Her time spent with Steven Blier's New York Festival of Song cabaret evenings has served her well and she uses her personality effectively to get a song across.  Last night's performance of four of Benjamin Britten's Cabaret Songs was delightful. Pianist Kathryn Felt joined her for the lilting "Tell Me the Truth About Love"--we loved the way she sang the phrase "Brighton's bracing air" with a charming buzz on the "br"s.  "Calypso" was given the proper propulsion but our favorite was "Johnny", her account of a lively girl dealing with a grumpy boring boyfriend.

Tenor David Smolokoff performed Gerald Finzi's setting of Thomas Hardy's A Young Man's Exhortation.  "The Dance Continued" was deeply felt but our favorite was the bittersweet "The Sigh" in which a man has been unable to forget or understand why his now-deceased wife emitted a deep sigh when he first kissed her.  We enjoyed the mystery.  Ava Nazar's piano was particularly lovely in the searching melody of "The Comet at Yell'ham".

Heard for the first time was soprano Tiffany Townsend with Hea Youn Chung as her piano partner.  These Finzi songs from Hardy's Till Earth Outwears are mournful ones--filled with nostalgia and memories of lost loves.  Anyone who's read Hardy's wonderful novels will have recognized his voice.  Ms. Townsend sang them with lovely phrasing, word coloring and excellent diction.  Our favorite was "Life Laughs Onward".

It will be so rewarding to observe these young artists as they continue their training at Juilliard.  Last night's program was coached by Andrew Harley.  Well done!

(c) meche kroop

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