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, January 30, 2015


Dominik Belavy, Nicolette Mavroleon, Samantha Hankey, Caitlin Redding, Nathan Haller

In terms of "attitude readjustment", nothing beats a Liederabend at Juilliiard. One's workaday stress ebbs away and one becomes flooded with positive emotions.  The music itself is always wonderful and fulfilling but the artists who perform it fill one with gratitude that a fine institution like Juilliard exists to hone their skills and bring them to the point of stage worthiness.

Yesterday's program was headlined by tenor Nathan Haller who has everything one could wish for in a tenor, with none of the common tenor problems.  He is an unfussy singer who manages to sustain his energy throughout the song and to involve the listener in the text.  The tone gleams like silver and there is no sign of strain.  He achieves variety through dynamics and phrasing. Every word could be understood.

He performed four songs from Schubert's Schwanengesang--well chosen for their variety of mood--expertly accompanied by the intuitive collaborative pianist Valeriya Polunina.  In the lighthearted "Liebesbotschaft" we could hear the babbling brook in her piano.  The portentous opening of "Kriegers Ahnung" was in marked contrast. Mr. Haller was even effective in the very lowest part of his register.  He dramatically conveyed the horror and eeriness of "Der Doppelgänger" and moved on to the joyfully lilting "Die Taubenpost".  It was a noteworthy performance.

A pair of Strauss songs were performed by baritone Dominik Belavy, accompanied by HoJae Lee.  Mr. Belavy was listed on the program as a baritone but there was a great deal of depth in his lower register.  Perhaps there is a bass-baritone in the making. He evinced a round tone with a pleasing vibrato and has an easy stage presence. We were astonished to learn that he is only 19 years old.

The romantic "Traum durch die Dämmerung", for example, lies rather low for a baritone but Mr. Belavy was undaunted. The sad "Ach Lieb, ich muss nun scheiden" was sung expressively.  Unlike most very young singers, Mr. B. knows how to use his body.

We were delighted by mezzo-soprano Samantha Hankey's performance of Trois Chansons de Bilitis by Debussy.  Her elegant stature and poise contributed to the long elegant French lines and Gallic atmosphere.  Edward Kim's accompaniment was correspondingly light and delicate.  Our only suggestion would be to make the words of this beautiful text better understood.  French seems to be rather more challenging in that regard, not just for Ms. Hankey but for most American singers.

Brahms' folk-like setting are deceptively simple but honestly charming.  Mezzo-soprano Caitlin Redding performed five of them with her excellent piano partner Martha Mingle.  Ms. Redding did her own translations and her expressive singing showed a comfort with the text. The unhappy "Mädchenlied" is one of our favorites; we had hoped for better diction to accompany the quality of her singing but we missed a lot of the phrases.  For some reason, the final lied "In stiller Nacht" was better understood.

Soprano Nicolette Mavroleon was also overcome by the German diction.  Her voice soars into the upper register with great passion and sounds best in the melismatic passages when unimpeded by the words.  Other than that her performance of Strauss' Vier letzte Lieder was vocally exciting.  The low-lying "Frühling" was followed (naturlich) by "September".  The set closed with the lovely "Beim Schlafengehen".  Kristen Doering was a fine piano partner.

What a splendid hour we passed at Juilliard.  Sadly, one gets this opportunity but once a month.  Yesterday's program was coached by the marvelous Vlad Iftinca who seems to know just how to pair up singer with pianist.  We wish we could end every workday in such fine fashion.

© meche kroop

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