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, September 13, 2015


Kathleen Kelly and Antonina Chehovska

Soprano Antonina Chehovska first came to our attention at a pair of recitals presented last June by the International Vocal Arts Institute. (reviews archived). We are delighted to report that her prodigious talent is not just a "flash in the pan" and that there is evidence of artistic growth even in the past couple months.

Thanks to Opera Columbus and the Cooper-Bing vocal competition, of which Ms. Chehovska is a winner, we had the opportunity to hear her perform a challenging program this afternoon at The National Opera Center. The competition was begun by Irma M. Cooper in 1983 just 2 years after she founded Opera Columbus. Current funding has been greatly accelerated by the generosity of Arthur and Hetty Bing who were present at the recital and who seemed to be enjoying it just as much as we were.

"Enjoying" may be considered unduly faint praise. It would be more accurate to say that we were thrilled--perhaps even to the point of being in an altered state of consciousness.

At first, this gifted soprano transported us to the world of the Roma people with Antonin Dvořak's Gypsy Songs, op. 55. The melodies and harmonies leave nothing to be desired and neither did Ms. Chehovska's performance. Her instrument and her technique (both enviable) took a back seat to her interpretive artistry as she expressed the gypsy love of music, dancing, romance, nostalgia, and freedom. Dvořak gave each song a different mood and Ms. Chehovska gave each one a different coloring. Even the joyful songs are tinged with melancholy.

We have heard these songs in English (not so good) and in German (much better) but to hear them in the original Czech was a special treat. We do not speak Czech but it was unmistakeable how Dvořak married the rhythm of the phrases to the rhythm of the music. Ms. Chehovska's special talent lay in her total immersion in the story she was telling; she wrapped herself in each story much as she wrapped herself in a huge shawl. We found ourself smiling along or getting teary-eyed as the text suggested.

Six Romances, op.38 by the late Romantic Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff were given comparable attention to detail. The songs tell of longing, love, and loss--and bring in references to elements of nature. Each one was a deeply felt miniature. As an audience member we felt invited by the artist to share her deepest feelings.

Tatiana's letter scene from Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin followed. We had just last night watched Renée Fleming's performance on a 2007 DVD and felt that Ms. Chehovska's interpretation was more believable; one was able to witness the impetuous teenager with all the features entering into a first infatuation--so far out of her comfort zone. We enjoyed Ms. Chehovska's performance with IVAI enormously but feel she has dug even deeper into the character this time around.

The same care was lavished on three songs by Tom Cipullo from Late Summer, to a somewhat lesser effect, since the text was unmusical.  It would be difficult to make music from phrases like "What makes the engine go?" but the artist did her best.

We were far more enchanted by the final set on the program--songs by a 20th c. Ukrainian composer, Severyn Saprun,  who wisely chose poetry from the 18th and 19th c. which seemed to inspire lavish melodies and harmonies that we would definitely wish to hear again. We never knew how musical a language Ukrainian is!

Kathleen Kelly's sensitive accompanying is not to be overlooked. We particularly enjoyed the pianism in Rachmaninoff's "Daisies" and in Saprun's "I love, I love". Ms. Kelly can be forceful when the song is robust but delicate when the song is melancholy.

The recital was the first in this season's  Emerging Artist Recital Series held by Opera America at the National Opera Center. If you are not already a member of Opera America, we would urge you to join. Membership cost is nominal and the benefits are huge for singers and accompanists, and those who love them. 

(c) meche kroop

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