Monday, January 16, 2017


Michael Fennelly, Sava Vemic, Sandra Hamaoui, Angela Vallone, Jane Shaulis, Jakub Jozef Orlinski, Cody Quattlebaum, and Andre Courville

Last night at The Essex House, Opera Index, Inc. presented the 2017 Distinguished Achievement Award to Tito Capobianco at their annual award dinner. Renowned for their generosity in supporting young opera singers, this nonprofit volunteer organization advocates for opera as well as supporting young singers with financial gifts and sponsored performances. The social and educational opportunities for fellow opera lovers are equally impressive.

The roster of award winners from prior years looks like a Who's Who of Opera. The six singers who entertained us so royally over dinner seem destined for the same stardom. In our eyes, they are already superstars. We have written about them all on prior occasions and have watched them in their ascendancy in the operatic firmament. We are pleased to note that the award funds were very well allocated.

Opening the entertainment portion of the evening was the petite and lovely soprano Sandra Hamaoui whose delivery of "Ah! Je veux vivre" from Gounod's Romeo et Juliette conveyed all the excitement of youth, aware only of the present glorious moment and unaware that her dream would turn into a nightmare. We previously heard Ms. Hamaoui perform this role and can only say that she owns it. She has a splendid sparkle in her tone.

Bass-baritone Cody Quattlebaum cut a fine figure as Figaro with his performance of "Se vuol ballare" from Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro. This is an operatic character we cherish and Mr. Quattlebaum's performance was one to cherish. We have heard him several times at Juilliard and are looking forward eagerly to his performance as Claudio in Handel's Agrippina at Alice Tully Hall next month.

We wish the entire world of opera could be as excited as we are by the somewhat rare fach of countertenor. When we hear Jakub Jozef Orlinski sing, we get goosebumps.  His delivery of "Furibondo spira il vento" from Handel's comic opera Partenope had the molecules of air dancing in our ears. Poor fickle Arsace just can't make up his mind between two women but we had no problem choosing J.J. as our countertenor du jour.

For his selection, bass-baritone Andre Courville chose "Air du tambour major" from Ambroise Thomas' 1849 comic opera Le Caid, an opera we have never heard. His presence was military and his sizable instrument filled the room as he strolled between the tables, interacting with members of the audience.

Beautiful soprano Angela Vallone sang "Azael, Azael" from Claude Debussy's one-act cantata L'enfant Prodigue, which won the composer the Prix de Rome in 1884. In this aria, a mother laments the absence of her son.  We loved the long legato French line, the longing quality in her voice, and her well considered variations of dynamics. 

Bass Sava Vemic ended the vocal part of the evening with a very moving performance of "Il lacerato spirito" from Verdi's Simon Boccanegra. In spite of his youth, his instrument sounds completely mature with substantial breadth even at the lowest part of the register. The melancholic color of his voice evoked sympathy for Fiesco, grief stricken over the loss of his daughter. We are thinking of him as King Philip II in Verd's Don Carlo ( or Don Carlos, if you prefer the French). What a challenge to evoke sympathy for THAT character!

The singers were accompanied by the always excellent pianist Michael Fennelly, and the evening was hosted by Opera Index President Jane Shaulis. A famous singer herself, Ms. Shaulis introduced the singers and the honoree Mr. Capobianco who is best known in these parts for his extraordinary directorial successes at New York City Opera although his other accomplishments are legendary.

(c) meche kroop

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