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, March 22, 2016


Jakub Jozef Orlinski and Miles Mykkanen

Regular readers already are aware of the high esteem in which we hold these two singers. But nothing could have prepared us for the encore they performed at the Juilliard Vocal Arts Honors Recital last night at Alice Tully Hall. Most people believe that the "Duetto buffo di due gatti" was composed by Rossini but we have learned that it is actually a compilation of excerpts from many works.  

We don't care where it originated. We have never heard it performed by a countertenor and a tenor. Nor have we ever heard it performed with such nuance and panache. The vocal  fireworks were layered with hilarious innuendo and some private references that the singers in the audience must have relished.  Laughter spread throughout Alice Tully Hall and everyone left grinning.

We do not mean to shortchange the rest of the recital but that encore is the piece we will remember after the rest of the program has been forgotten.  Countertenor Jakub Jozef Orlinski and tenor Miles Mykkanen were selected for this annual event by audition, after being nominated by their teachers. We applaud the choices as heartily as we applauded the performances.

Awards have already been heaped on these two vocal magicians and it appears that their futures are assured. We are glad to have been there pretty close to the beginning, in the case of Mr. Mykkanen, and immediately upon Mr. Orlinski's arrival at Juilliard for advanced training.

Mr. Orlinski's instrument sounds like what you'd expect to hear from an angel, if you believed in paradise. We haven't heard anything like it since Anthony Roth Costanzo. We liked him best in the two Handel arias--"A dispetto d'un volto ingrato" from Tamerlano and the devilishly difficult "Furibondo spira il vento" from Partenope. He exhibited a full emotional range, dynamic subtlety, and ample flexibility in the fioritura.

The quieter songs by Purcell were sung with impeccable English diction, leading us to wonder whether singers with non-English backgrounds just try harder.  Collaborative pianist Michal Biel excelled in the gorgeous piano introduction to "Music for a While" and John Dryden's text was perfectly understood. The wide skips were well negotiated.

The melismatic passages of "If Music be the Food of Love" were transporting and Mr. Orlinski's phrasing was lovely.  Even his catch-breaths were given an emotional subtext. "Strike the Viol" was an emotional tribute to the Patroness and we couldn't help thinking of the largesse of Ellen and the late James S. Marcus who so generously supported their namesake Institute for Vocal Arts.

A trio of Polish songs rounded out Mr. Orlinski's half of the program and we were enthralled by the two early 20th c. songs by Karol Szymanowski whose opera King Roger we so enjoyed in Santa Fe a couple years ago. A third song by a contemporary, Pawel Lukaszewski, offered some very colorful writing for the piano which Mr. Biel performed beautifully.

The second half of the program began with tenor Miles Mykkanen making sense of W.H. Auden's poetry in Benjamin Britten's setting of On this island, Op. 11. He had no problem with the high tessitura of "Let the Florid Music Praise!".  Collaborative pianist Ho Jae Lee kept a throbbing piano underpinning the severe text of "Now the Leaves Are Falling Fast". Mr. Mykkanen brought the song to a dramatic climax with a stunning diminuendo at the end.

Mr. Mykkanen, apart from his prodigious vocal talent, is a splendid storyteller and we like him best when he has something to work with.  The final song in this set, "As it is, plenty" was infused with irony and grabbed us by the throat; there was a kind of music hall flavor to it that just made the text more poignant.

For our taste, it was the set of Schumann songs that touched us most deeply. "Des Sennen Abschied" was given all the ambivalence of accepting the change of seasons. One cannot go wrong setting Friedrich Schiller!

Nor can one go wrong setting Friedrich Rückert and Mr. Mykkanen invested "Mein schöner Stern" with apt phrasing and emotional content. "Requiem" was filled with spiritual transport.

And those songs by Edvard Grieg are gems!  "Takk for dit Råd" was sung with strength and determination; "En svane" was filled with a gentle mournfulness and was quite moving.  We love the repetitive motif. The romantic "En drøm" closed the program and Mr. Lee's delicacy on the piano supported Mr. Mykkanen's gentle delivery.

We understand that the singers chose their own program and it is always wonderful to hear singers singing what they love. Moreover, both singers were engaging when addressing the audience. So, we wound up hearing something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue!

(c) meche kroop

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