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.

Thursday, November 10, 2016


Michael Fennelly, Cesar Delgado, Brian Vu, SeokJung Baek, Andrés Moreno Garcia, Alexander McKissick, and Jane Shaulis

Wonderful entertainment and the sharing of good food and wine sounds like a perfect evening and a good way to assuage political disappointment. We cling to the arts to remedy the ugliness of everyday life.  On Planet Opera, "Tout est luxe, calme et volupté". Baudelaire wrote it (Les Fleurs du Mal), Duparc set it to music, and Matisse painted it. Last night at the annual membership party of Opera Index, we lived it.  Too bad no one sang "L'invitation au voyage" !

After some welcoming words by President Jane Shaulis (yes, a most effective female president) we members were serenaded by five handsome charming young artists. The annual vocal competition is quite a big deal. It took a panel of 3 to winnow the 300 applicants down to 91 singers and a couple days of auditioning to further get the list down to 27 finalists.  A new panel of judges selected the final 16 award recipients.

As is our wont, we do not offer the rankings or tell how the $55,000. was distributed. All we are willing to share with our readers is that our dearest wish is to see these talented tenors and brilliant baritones become as famous as prior winners--among whom we notice the names of many world renowned singers.

But let's get to the entertainment!  We had a round of opera arias followed by a round of more lighthearted songs, so that each singer's versatility was showcased. We have noticed a procession of gifted singers coming from Mexico (NO WALL, PLEASE!) and tenor Andrés Moreno Garcia ranks among the best. He sang Alfredo's second act aria from Verdi's La Traviata--"De miei bollenti spiriti" and he sang it with all the exuberant spirits of a young man in love.

His instrument has a sound full of amplitude and resonance with good variety of dynamics and just the right rubato. He is filled to the brim with Latin passion and, for his second selection, gave a marvelous reading of "No puede ser" from La tabernera del puerto by Pablo Sorozábal.  Even if you've never seen that zarzuela, you have heard several famous tenors offer this intense crowd-pleaser.

Tenor Alexander McKissick chose an aria from Puccini's first stage work (1883), the opera/ballet Le villi.  In "Torna ai felici di", the hero mourns the loss of his youth, before he was seduced by one of those mittel-Europa sirens. Mr. McKissick conveyed Roberto's anguish vocally, with an economy of gesture, and built the work to an intense climax.

His lighter side was given an opportunity to shine in "You and the Night and the Music", the Arthur Schwartz song (lyrics by Howard Dietz) composed for the 1934 Broadway show Revenge with Music. Mr. McKissick sure has what it takes to be on Broadway if he chose that pathway.

The other tenor on the program was Cesar Delgado, who won an Encouragement Award two years ago and is certainly living up to his potential.  It is not uncommon for singers to feel the encouragement and return to achieve another award. Mr. Delgado adopted a Trump-like arrogance as he portrayed The Duke in Rigoletto singing "La donna è mobile". (If only we could whisk Trump off the stage after 3 minutes, LOL)

Mr. Delgado has thrilled us on a couple of occasions with his zarzuela singing.  As a matter of fact we well remember his singing "No puede ser" a couple years ago! But last night he surprised us by singing in German--"Dein ist mein ganzes Herz" the hit song from Franz Lehár's Das Land des Lächelns. His manner was warm and expressive and his German totally understandable.

As far as the baritones we heard, both were superb. It seems as if SeokJung Baek is everywhere.  And no wonder! He is a fine and versatile artist with a beautiful instrument. His selection was "Avant de quitter ces lieux" from Gounod's Faust which he sang in fine French with appropriate variation of vocal color in the second section.

His second selection was the very same Tosti song we heard him sing a couple days ago--"L'alba separa dalla luce l'ombra". Truly, we cannot get enough of this fine performance. We have been listening to recordings of it for the past few days.

The second baritone Brian Vu is truly a stage animal. He used his entire body to convey the expansive personality of Rossini's creation--the barber Figaro--in "Largo al factotum". Mr. Vu's stage personality is so much larger than life that one might overlook the fact that his voice is so outstanding.

His second selection was equally impressive--"Johanna" from Sondheim's Sweeney Todd, sung with all the ardency of the character of Anthony Hope, the young sailor who loves Sweeney's daughter. We would have to agree with Schuyler Chapin (former general manager of The Metropolitan Opera) that this work is an opera. We'd love to see it in an opera house and would absolutely love to hear Mr. Vu in the role.

As a final number, all five singers joined voices for a rousing and jovially competitive version of "O Sole Mio", Eduardo di Capua's 1898 Neapolitan song. We have heard it sung by a group before but don't recall enjoying it as much as we did last night.

Michael Fennelly was the accompanist for the evening and was just as excellent as he always is.  With artistic appetites sated, awards were distributed and members headed for the buffet table which was laden with delights brought by the members themselves. It would appear that those who love singing also love food!  

Now, with all appetites sated, who could even think of the day's distress and disappointment.  We all left smiling!

(c) meche kroop

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