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, November 17, 2015


Larisa Martinez and Suchan Kim
We have enjoyed the operatic performances of versatile soprano Larisa Martinez for the past two years-- a winsome Barbarina in Mozart's Nozze di Figaro, the larger than life Musetta in Puccini's La Bohème,  Fire in Ravel's L'Enfant et les Sortilèges, and Giulietta in Bellini's I Capuleti e i Montecchi. So it was no small thrill to experience an entire evening of her performances at the old world townhouse of the Kosciuszko Foundation, presented by the Lyric Chamber Music Society of New York.

The program was wisely designed to show off Ms. Martinez' many assets but also included the artistry of splendid baritone Suchan Kim, whose Mozart we have heard and appreciated, and four cellists, with the superb accompanist Laetitia Ruccolo at the piano.  As if this were not enough we also got to see some fine Spanish dancing from Elisabet Torras Aguilera.

Ms. Martinez appears to have it all--a beautiful and stylish appearance, a warm stage presence, fine technique, and a most attractive sound with just the right amount of vibrato. We enjoyed her most in the operatic works, virtually swooning over "Eccomi...Oh Quante Volte" from the aforementioned Bellini, in which the doomed Giulietta despairs of the marriage planned for her and longs for the distant Romeo.

Bellini's long lovely phrases were exquisitely rendered. The fioritura was florid and delivered in ringing tones. High notes were beautifully spun out and dynamics used effectively for emotional impact.

Two duets with Mr. Kim were extraordinary from both vocal and dramatic standpoints. From among many possibilities of soprano-baritone duets, the choices were perfect. In "La ci darem la mano" from Mozart's Don Giovanni, Mr. Kim was a sly seducer and Ms. Martinez an ultimately compliant Zerlina.

Mr. Kim has a substantial sound and fine phrasing and easily switched gears to become the unfortunate Rigoletto patiently listening to Gilda's recitation of her seduction/rape by the Duke. He clearly showed Rigoletto's inner turmoil while he attempted to comfort his beloved daughter.  It was a real heart breaker and Ms. Martinez switched easily from the minx in the previous scene to the betrayed young woman in the second.

We experience Ms. Martinez as more of an opera singer but that doesn't mean there was any fault in her lieder singing. We might have preferred a less operatic sound for Brahms' simple folksong "Botschaft", but we enjoyed hearing Clara Schumann's "Liebst du um Schonheit" and were better able to put Strauss' setting  out of our ears than we were the first time we heard it.

But the best lied was the meditative "Nacht und Träume", one of Schubert's finest, as she eased up on power and volume, respecting the lovely text.

Hugo Wolf's "Erstes Liebeslied Eines Mädchens" has its frisky double entendres and Ms. Martinez captured them with a sly smile.

We had just heard mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard sing the 15th c. Spanish folksong "Las Morillas de Jaen" and it was great to hear it once again. The graceful dancer Elisabet Torras Aguilera added her terpsichorean skills, casting aside the castanets she used in Isaac Albeniz' "Sevilla" in favor of a fan, which only Spanish women know how to employ so effectively. She also danced through the cute Obradors song "Chiquitita la novia".

Following the dancing, four cellists made their entrance and proceeded to play "Fugue #1" from Bach's The Art of the Fugue. Elad Kabilio was reviewed last week but Grace Ho, Oded Hadar and Caleb van der Swaagh were new to us.  We have never heard four cellos in ensemble but Mr. Kablio did a fine job of arranging; the variety of tone was impressive with bowing and plucking bringing out the different voices.

The four cellists remained to accompany Ms. Martinez as she sang more of Villa Lobos' "Bachianas #5" than we have ever heard before. We still prefer the vocalise section which allowed us to focus on the singer's purity of tone.

As encore we heard a selection called "La Petenera" from Moreno Torroba's 1928 zarzuela La Marchenera. Those who read us will recall how fondly we think of zarzuela.  Again, our greedy ears want to hear the entire work!

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