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.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015


Rainer Armbrust, Jelena Banković, Gina Perregrino, Antonina Chekhovskaya, Christopher Georgetti, Dorothy Gal, Zayra Ruiz, and Sandra Hamaoui

Having greatly enjoyed the evening of arias presented by the International Vocal Arts Institute last Thursday (scroll down if you missed it) we were eager to hear how the talented young artists would fare with an evening of lieder and mélodies. Although many of the necessary skills overlap, the requirements for the latter differ from the former. 

In opera, an artist can succeed on the basis of a beautiful voice and good technique. For lieder, a deeply personal understanding of the text and the ability to draw the audience in are minimum requirements. The ability to access one's own feelings and communicate them to the audience so that they share the feelings are what distinguishes a great lieder singer. We have seen/heard some major stars of the opera world fail to achieve this difficult task.

We take pleasure in reporting that the students in the IVAI Summer Institute showed great promise in this challenging art form. Since the text achieves prominence in these works, the singer must be scrupulous in diction. These young artists appear to have benefited from the daily coaching sessions, with only an occasional avoidance of the final "ch" in German to detract from otherwise excellent diction.

Again, we were very impressed with soprano Sandra  Hamaoui (the Juliette of last Thursday) who performed "Absence" from Berlioz' Les Nuits d'été. Her well-focused voice was under fine dynamic control and the heartfelt communication of longing entranced us. We were so drawn in that we forgot where we were!

From the same cycle, soprano Jelena Banković sang "Villanelle" with piquant personality and high spirits. What a contrast from her performance as the tortured maiden in "Gretchen am Spinnrade" earlier in the program; she began seated and as the song built to a stunning climax she rose from her chair and then collapsed in despair at the end.  Simply riveting!

We have not heard mezzo-soprano Gina Perregrino sing in some time and was delighted to hear her sing "Le spectre de la rose". Her French phrasing was scented with the perfume of the spirit of the rose. Very fragrant indeed!
Soprano Dorothy Gal made more of an impression than she had the other night when she breathed life into "L'île inconnue" just as the poet speaks of filling the sails of a boat.

Another singer who made more of an impression last night was baritone Lawson Anderson who limned the sorrowful colors of Hugo Wolf's "Verborgenheit" and provided necessary variety by means of dynamic control.

We had never heard soprano Aine Hakamatsuka before but she sang one of our favorite Wolf songs--"Das verlassene Mägdelein". She completely captured the daily tedium and vague unhappiness of the young woman and on "plötzlich" all the colors changed when she recalled the masculine source of her misery and flashes of anger emerged.  So powerful!  The far more cheerful "Er ist's" allowed her to exhibit completely different vocal colors.

Mezzo-soprano Georgia Burashko did some fine work in Schumann's "In der Fremde", the challenging opening song of his Liederkreis with it's lonely feeling and changes of key. (Strangely the translation provided was for the other "In der fremde" which is song #8.)  In a totally different mood was "Waldegespräch" in which she captured the sense of menace; we hoped to hear a bit more contrast of color between the voices of the man and the Lorelei and a clearer  "ch" at the end of the words. 

In "Die Rose, die Lilie, die Taube", light tenor Mattheus Coura showed all the impetuosity of a young man who idolizes his girl, perhaps in the way that Schumann worshipped his Clara.  It felt delightfully spontaneous.

Tenor Christopher Eaglin possesses a heavier instrument and his songs were wisely chosen.  He sang "Im Rhein, im heiligen Strome" and then "Ich grolle nicht", both also from Schumann's Liederkreis. He sure knows how to sustain a tone to the end of the phrase.

There was only one bass-baritone on the program and he is a born storyteller. He sang Schumann's "Die beiden Grenadiere" with fine diction and expressiveness of voice, face, and gesture. Vocal coloring sustained interest throughout.

Several more young artists were on the excellent program--sopranos Yulan Piao, Antonina Chekhovskaya (reviewed last Thursday), and Kimberly Merrill, mezzo Zayra Ruiz (reviewed last Thursday), and tenors Zachary Rubens and Christopher Georgetti. All impressed us and merit further hearings.

Accompaniment was excellent and provided by Rainer Armbrust whose piano postlude in "Er ist's" was dazzling.  the effective staging was done by Joshua Major who had several singers seated onstage at once, listening raptly to whomever was singing. It produced a more dramatic effect than one usually experiences at a lieder recital but, paradoxically felt casual, as if we were at a musicale in Schumann's parlor.

There will be a final recital on Wednesday and we regret that we have a prior engagement. We urge you to go hear these fine young artists.

(c) meche kroop

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