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.

Monday, May 2, 2016


An embarrassment of riches--Gerda Lissner International Vocal Competition Winners

Thanks to the incredible generosity of the Gerda Lissner Foundation, young vocal talent is spotted and successful careers are launched. Over two million dollars has been awarded to about 500 young artists.  This year's winners were culled from approximately 400 applicants and were astonishing in their talent.

The competition winners' recital, an annual event, was graciously hosted by Brian Kellow who introduced the honoree, no less an artist than star soprano Deborah Voigt. We were happy to hear Stephen De Maio, President of the Foundation, acknowledged and described as "a best friend to young artists".

And what a group of young artists we heard yesterday! As is our wont, we will not distinguish between levels of prizes. There were a number of features that were common to all the winners; they were all well-prepared, poised, and totally committed to what they were singing. There are difficulties in jumping into an aria without staging, makeup, and costumes. The singer must use only voice and gesture to bring the audience into the aria.

The Liederkranz Foundation is now associated with the Gerda Lissner Foundation and awarded  prizes to tenor Kevin Ray and to soprano Amber Daniel. Mr. Ray's performance of "Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnemond" from Wagner's Die Walküre was delivered with a dark color but warm feeling. Somehow Mr. Ray managed to convey Siegmund's sorrowful backstory lurking behind the sudden joy of reuniting with his twin sister.  And that's artistry! We were hoping that the gloomy weather outside would yield to Spring but no such luck!

Ms. Daniel's "Dich, teure Halle" from Wagner's Tannhäuser was delivered with joyful abandon and a powerful ringing tone. Her German diction was excellent.

The Liederkranz Foundation does not just support Wagnerian singers. They also awarded a prize to Sean Michael Plumb whose baritone has impressed judges in several other competitions.  He performed "Bella siccome un angelo" from Donizetti's Don Pasquale and sold it to the audience just as successfully as Dr. Malatesta sold his "sister" to the eponymous hero of the opera. He produced a rich sound and a most dynamic presence as he waxed rhapsodic over "Sofronia".

There was a lot more bel canto on the program, to our delight. The long lyric lines Bellini wrote for Amina in "Care Compagne" from La Sonnambula were gracefully handled by the lovely soprano Hyesang Park; her fine voice and technique served this ingenue role perfectly.

Another modest bel canto heroine is Angelina in Rossini's La Cenerentola and mezzo-soprano Aleksandra Romano performed her final aria "Nacqui all'affanno...Non piu mesta"; she exhibited a true mezzo quality that opened beautifully at the top. The cabaletta could only be described as exciting.

Rossini's other mezzo heroine Rosina in "Il barbiere di Siviglia" is not so modest; she is as spunky as a 19th c. girl could be, and Samantha Hankey used her personality and her smoky sound to fine effect. The embellishments to the line were quite wonderful.

Tenor Fanyong Du exhibited fine Italianate technique as he tackled Bellini's stretched out line in "A Te, O Cara" from I Puritani. With his somewhat grainy tone he managed to invest the aria with profound romantic feeling and evinced superb dynamic control and an impressive legato.

Bass-baritone Pawel Konik engaged us completely with his delivery of "Aleko's cavatina" from the Rachmaninoff opera of the same name. His tone is warm with a pleasant resonance throughout his entire range. He delivered a beautifully modulated crescendo and not a hint of burliness.

We had hoped to hear some more Russian from soprano Antonina Chehovska but once we heard her "Depuis le jour" from Charpentier's Louise, any hint of disappointment melted away. With gorgeous French she floated her top notes and won our admiration with a beautifully sustained pianissimo.

There was more French to be enjoyed. Soprano Alexa Jarvis did well by Gounod in "Air des bijoux" from Faust. Her voice sparkled like the gems that so impressed Marguerite and the performance dazzled us with authenticity.

Baritone Kidon Choi performed the beautiful "Vision Fugitive" from Massenet's Hérodiade and our first thought was "Verdi baritone in his future". We heard a lot of depth and breadth, especially in the lower register, and some quite lovely phrasing.

There was only one Verdi aria on the program but not for a baritone. Tenor Kang Wang sang Alfredo's Act II aria "De' miei bollenti spiriti" from La Traviata, with a most attractive sound and ebullient spirit.

Finally, we heard three Puccini arias. D'Ana Lombard drew us into "Si, mi chiamano Mimi" from La bohème. The modesty and lovely tone were just right for the character.

Although not at all adjacent on the program, her counterpart Rodolfo has an aria in the same act--"Che gelida manina" and tenor Galeano Salas performed it with his sizable warm instrument and Italianate sound, creating a most believable character with voice and gesture.

Finally, we were delighted by tenor Andrew Stenson's performance of Rinuccio's aria "Firenze è come un albero fiorito" from Gianni Schicchi. Mr. Stenson was just bursting with personality and employed his fine instrument with such gusto that we could indeed visualize everything he was describing about this beautiful city.

We couldn't imagine a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon than by hearing such a wide variety of talent--each one with his/her own special gifts, each one on a different pathway which we hope will bring them all fame and fortune.

Piano accompaniment was provided by Arlene Shrut and Jonathan Kelly.

(c) meche kroop

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