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, February 21, 2016


Nora London surrounded by a bunch of winners!

The George London Foundation has been generously awarding grants to young singers for 45 years now. Nora London has done a fantastic job of honoring the memory of her late husband.  Last Friday afternoon six eminent judges awarded $73,000. to the 23 finalists, culled from a field of 85 applicants.

The overall quality of the performances exceeded our expectations from prior years. We generally put a star on the program next to the name of the singers we like the best.  By the time we starred the first four singers we realized there was no point trying to second guess the judges. We are glad we were not called upon to put one performance above another.  For those readers for whom the amounts of the awards are of interest, we refer you to the press release...


For our part, we prefer to share with readers our own impressions without regard to the level of the award. Our bias is toward singers who relate to the text and can communicate that to the audience. Having spoken to some of the singers we believe that the singer does best if he/she loves the song.  Each singer submits a list and then is told what the judges wish to hear.

So...here goes! Soprano Jacqueline Piccolino wowed us from the first second with her thrilling sound, a garlic-scented dramatic coloratura, an unusual fach to be sure.  She performed "Bel raggio lusinghier" from Rossini's Semiramide with marvelous flexibility in the cabaletta and a true diva's command of the stage.

This year there was no shortage of big voices. One can always count on soprano Marina Costa-Jackson for a fine performance and she showed her stuff with the heart-breaking "Morrò, ma prima in grazia" from Verdi's Un ballo in maschera.

Antonina Chehovska used her wonderful soprano for the challenging "Letter Scene" from Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin. She mined every phrase for dramatic meaning and conveyed all the passionate intensity of a young woman in the throes of first love.

Lighter sopranos were also in evidence and we loved Claudia Rosenthal's "Non monsieur mon mari" from Poulenc's Les mamelles de Tiresias. It was an unusual choice but it gave full access to her vibrant personality and acting skills.

Another lovely performance in French was that of mezzo-soprano Cecelia Hall who filled "Oh! La pitoyable aventure!" from Ravel's L'heure espagnole with plenty of humor.

Soprano Kirstin MacKinnon excelled in the "Jewel Song" from Gounod's Faust and used her bright instrument effectively, bringing the aria to a stunning climax. 

Mezzo-soprano Shabnam Kalbasi performed "Nacqui all'affano...Non più mesta" from Rossini's La Cenerentola with a lot of charm and evenness throughout the wide-ranging skips and jumps.

Considering the male singers, baritone Steven LaBrie performed "Pierrot's Tanzlied" from Korngold's Die Tote Stadt with a great deal of feeling and artistry to swoon over.

Bass Colin Ramsey was simply wonderful in "The Catalog Aria" from Mozart's Don Giovanni. We haven't heard him sing since his undergraduate days at Manhattan School of Music and were thrilled to hear how his voice has developed.

Speaking of developing voices, we detected something new and exciting in the baritone of John Viscardi who filled the room with glorious sound in "Avant de quitter ces lieux" from Gounod's Faust. He sang with an enviable legato and wisely modulated the dynamic intensity in accordance with the text.

Baritone Sean Michael Plumb used his rich voice and dramatic skills in "O Carlo ascolta...Io morro" from Verdi's Don Carlo.  It was most convincing.

Baritone David Pershall sang "Starbuck's Aria" from Heggie's Moby Dick with power and eloquence, sensitive to the character's moral dilemma.

Bass-baritone Michael Sumuel sang "Blick'ich umher" from Wagner's Tannhäuser and pleased us with his breadth of tone.  The dynamic variety was well achieved and there was some lovely delicacy in the pp passages.

Baritone Jared Bybee sang "Vision Fugitive" from Massenet's Herodiade with lovely alternation between intensity and delicacy.

Craig Rutenberg was the accompanist for the singers and one could not have wished for better. We particularly enjoyed his playing of Wagner and Tchaikovsky.

We have heard the future of opera and we are not worried.  Au contraire, there are plenty of superlative artists.  All we need are the companies to employ them!

(c) meche kroop

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