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, April 6, 2017


Jeremy Chan and Hongni Wu

Showered with flowers! Not every recitalist commands this much admiration and affection from her colleagues but Hongni Wu is special in many ways. Her recital last night at Manhattan School of Music marked her achievement of a Master of Music degree from that esteemed institution. We first heard Ms. Wu as Prince Orlofsky in Johann Strauss Jr.'s Die Fledermaus last summer as part of Martina Arroyo's Prelude to Performance. It was a breakout performance. We heard her again as Sesto at the MSM production of Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito. We wondered at this young woman who could do justice to two such very different roles.

Ms. Wu has a distinctive mezzo-soprano instrument that has unique overtones and resonance. It sounds like chocolate tastes, rich and creamy.  But there is a sparkle to it as well. This puts her head and shoulders above the many mezzos who all sound alike. Moreover, she has an abundance of onstage presence and the ability to get a song across.

We asked her about her singing in French, Italian (Venetian dialect, no less), and German without actually speaking those languages and were told that she learns the songs phonetically but knows what each word means.  This is amazing to us because, as she sings, the phrasing is easy and fluent--just as fluent as it was when she closed her program with songs in Mandarin.

She opened with a trio of songs by Gabriel Faure--the romantic "Chanson d'amour", the melancholic "Automne", and the bitter "Fleur Jetee".  The long luxurious lines were well phrased and each song elicited a different coloration.

Rossini loved mezzo-sopranos and wrote his best music for them. La regata veneziana is a show-piece and gives the singer three different moods to establish. The heroine Anzoleta is flirtatious before the competition, excited during it, and celebratory afterward. It also requires singing in Venetian dialect, a challenge even for speakers of Italian.

Robert Schumann's Frauenliebe und leben is another cycle that requires changes of mood and coloration and Ms. Wu was wise to have chosen such pieces to highlight her unique artistry. "Seit ich ihn gesehen" was sung with the wonder of discovery and a bit more rubato than we are accustomed to but the fermata was actually quite lovely. In "Er, der Herrlichste von allen", the singer is overcome by idealization; in "Ich kann nicht fassen, nicht glauben", by excitement. The devotion in "Du Ring an meinem Finger" is quite plain;  the young woman begins to grow up and accept the responsibilities of womanhood. All this was made clear. 

We have only one small nit-picky criticism. Ms. Wu has the habit of so many non-German-speaking singers of inconsistency with the "ch" sound. At times it was perfect, at other times it was glossed over.  This should be easy to remedy with a little attention.  Most people would probably not notice it but our ears always pick it up. Some day we hope to hear Ms. Wu sing the entire cycle and by then, the "ch"s will be perfect.

If there is one mid-to-late 20th c. composer whose works we enjoy it would be William Bolcom. We have gone long distances to hear cabaret artist Kim Smith sing "Song of Black Max".  Ms. Wu's interpretation was different but rivaled his with one exception. Her accent made a few words unintelligible and this is a song in which every word counts. The same problem was noted in "Amor" which is our favorite encore piece. The expression and gestures were perfect in both songs but there needs to be a little work on English enunciation.

In Bolcom's "Waitin'" the words are simple and less important so it didn't matter.  The hymn-like melody was delivered simply and effectively.

The program concluded with songs from China. Jeremy Chan brought out the beautiful melody of Rui Zhang's "Condolent speech" which was written in A-B-A form. We do love the sound of Mandarin! The second piece Xianglin Zhou's "A glass of wine" was lighthearted and rhythmic, strangely reminding us of Latin music.

The encore was also in Mandarin--"My Love is Waiting for You".

We are so happy to learn that Ms. Wu will continue her profession studies at MSM because it means we will have further opportunities to hear her.

(c) meche kroop

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