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.

Sunday, April 12, 2015


Tomoko Nakayama, Michael Brandenburg, Aleksandra Romano, Keriann Otaño, Raquel González, and Wei Wu

As part of Opera America's Emerging Artist Recital Series, the Washington National Opera's Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program presented an enjoyable recital in the intimate auditorium of the National Opera Center. We love the experience of hearing singers up close and personal.

The five singers and sole pianist were chosen from among the ten singers and two pianists who take part in the two-year program, currently experiencing its 13th season. The emerging artists in the program are given lessons, coaching, career counseling, and performance opportunities.

We were overjoyed to hear soprano Raquel González once more; we have missed her since her Juilliard days. In impeccable French and with radiant warmth, she sang a pair of songs by Reynaldo Hahn and one by Alfred Bachelet. She wisely scaled her voice to the size of the room and channeled all that love of nature.

The other singers were new to us. Soprano Kerriann Otaño also sang of nature and Spring--but she sang in Russian.  These Rachmaninoff songs, given their Russian nature, were more passionate. In "O You, My Grain-Field", the poet uses the wheat as a metaphor for his thoughts. Such torment was relieved by the joyful "Spring Waters" which we have heard at least three times this week and never tire of.

Mezzo-soprano Aleksandra Romano also sang in Russian with a resonant and pleasingly penetrating sound. Tchaikovsky must have written more songs than we'd ever imagined because we have rarely heard the same one twice. There was an abundance of bitterness and sorrow in "Over Burning Ashes" but "The Sun Has Set" was a tender romance.

Tenor Michael Brandenburg performed three well-known songs from the Richard Strauss oeuvre: the persuasive "Cäcilie" the exuberant "Zueignung", and the tragic "Befreit" in which the singer must convey the sorrow of a man losing his youngish wife. The words speak of acceptance and even joy but the pain must also come through.

Bass Wei Wu introduced us to the other Chansons de Don Quichotte--those written by Jacques Ibert to text by Pierre de Ronsard. It was in this set that we heard what collaborative pianist Tomoko Nakayama could do. She totally captured the flavor of Spain. We will be reviewing a program called Don Quixote in Music this Thursday at the Hispanic Society and wonder whether these songs will be included!

The second half of the program was devoted to American songs, mainly from the Broadway genre. We were over the moon hearing these gems sung unamplified by such superior voices. All five singers were onstage together and interacted with one another, lending a naturalistic feel. Michael Heaston directed with panache.

Ms. González sang  Jerome Kern's "The Siren's Song" and astonished us with her versatility. We never knew she had a coquettish side and it tickled us. Mr. Brandenburg sang Nicholas Brodszky's "Be My Love" and sang it to all three women in turn. Although it was written to be sung to a "one and only", portraying the singer as a Don Juan was a delightfully fresh approach.

Ms. Otaño was really funny in the William Bolcom's bluesy "Toothbrush Time" about a woman who can't wait to get rid of her sleep-over date. Ms. Romano sang Bolcom's "Amor" without saying anything new, but she sang it engagingly.

Mr. Wu was convincing in "This Nearly Was Mine" from Rodgers/Hammerstein's South Pacific. The program ended with the entire cast singing "It's a Grand Night for Singing" and indeed it was!

How wonderful that New York could welcome these visitors from the nation's capitol. We hope they came back soon.

(c) meche kroop

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