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, March 20, 2015


Siyi Fang and Jessine Johnson

We hear so many young sopranos with beautiful voices and tons of talent that we wonder whether sufficient roles will be available for them.  But once in awhile we hear one of those big beautiful young women with big beautiful voices, voices that are less common and possibly more in demand.  Such was the case yesterday evening at Juilliard when we heard soprano Jessine Johnson who seems to have the potential for Wagnerian and Verdian roles.

She chose wisely for her opening aria--"Non mi dir" from Mozart's Don Giovanni.  Her sizable voice has a nice gleam to it without a hint of harshness.  She attacked the high notes as fearlessly as the daunting coloratura passages, demonstrating considerable flexibility.  It was all there--the good Italian, the legato phrasing, the variety of dynamics and color, the facility with the flights of embellishments.

We were already wondering what she would do with the Wagner songs which closed the program and we were not at all disappointed.  We greatly enjoyed three selections from Fünf Gedichte von Mathilde Wesendonk.  Both she and her superb collaborative pianist Siyi Fang made the most of the rising four-note scale passage (familiar from Tristan und Isolde) in "Im Treibhaus"; the lower tessitura was well handled. There was sufficient urgency in "Stehe Still" with its glorious piano writing. "Träume" was no less terrific.

Encores are not generally performed in graduation recitals but the thunderous applause generated a thrilling rendition of "Dich Teure Halle" from Tannhäuser, resulting in still more accolades.

What we really appreciated in Ms. Johnson's German was her crisp enunciation of the consonants, accomplished without sacrificing the value of the vowels. Many young singers, even those giving professional recitals, have demonstrated discomfort with the final "ch", a pet peeve of ours.  Not so here!

Let us not neglect what came between the Mozart and the Wagner.  We heard two light-hearted chansons by Debussy from his Quatre Chansons de Jeunesses.  In "Pantomime" the mood was frisky until the final tender verse, given its full emotional value by both Ms. Johnson and Ms. Fang.

We also heard four songs by Robert Schumann, three of them which were full of threat and menace ("Warnung", "Muttertraum", and "Der Soldat") and one in a lighter vein "Mein schöner Stern"--a consoling contrast to the darkness.

As far as the Libby Larsen cycle Try Me, Good King: Last Words of the Wives of Henry VIII, we found the texts sufficiently interesting to read up on Tudor history. But as many times as we have heard the cycle, we have not succeeded in finding the vocal line sufficiently interesting, even though Ms. Johnson sang it well.  The piano score is interesting but neither the piano writing nor the vocal line seemed to illuminate the words, which can easily stand alone as historical documents.  But they are not poetry!  We find no pleasure in musical settings of prose.

This recital was given to fulfill one of the requirements for receiving a Master of Music Degree from Juilliard but it was totally worthwhile as an evening's entertainment.  We foresee a fine future for both artists.

(c) meche kroop

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