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.

Sunday, April 9, 2017


Michal Biel and Jakub Jozef Orlinski

The Polish songs we heard at Michal Biel's recital at Juilliard on Thursday were so outstandingly lovely that we wanted more. The review for that recital is just a few reviews behind this one but there is more to say about the songs. The performance took place in the gorgeous townhouse of the Kosciuszko Foundation (about which Development Officer Ewa Zadworna had some interesting anecdotes to share). Counter-tenor Jakub Jozef Orlinski shared descriptions about each of the Kurpian Songs of Karol Szymanowski. He is the first counter-tenor to perform them.

We were so frustrated searching for translations online but were told by Mr. O. that the dialect of these folk songs could not be accurately translated.  So...we just let the sounds engulf us and tease our ears. The first song, which we had described as sad, turned out to be a lament for lost love; the one we called lively was about a bird escaping a storm; the one we noted as somber was about a woman being married off to a man she doesn't love; the one we described as anxious was about a woman being seduced by a man on horseback.  So, it appears as if Mr. O. was preternaturally successful at conveying the meaning!
On our wish list is hearing this divine duo perform all twelve of them.

The Baird songs also stood up to a second hearing. We just learned they were written for the basso fach but what difference does that make when they sound so good in the counter-tenor range. Actually "Slodka milosci" utilized the bottom of Mr. O's register which is very mellow and appealing.

Another Polish offering was Pawel Lukaszewski's 1968 "Jesien" about autumn, decay, death, and rebirth. The prelude involved improvisation  by Mr. Biel. As one would expect, Mr. O. is so comfortable in his native language that he seems to be tasting the words as he sings them. He is a singer of great intelligence and musicality. Among the many honors and awards he has accrued was the 2015 Marcella Sembrich competition and the Met National Council Award.

The program also included works with which we are far more familiar. There were some sunny songs by the beloved Reynaldo Hahn who knew how to write a gorgeous melody for the voice. Mr. O. sang them in fine French. "A Chloris" has a baroque introduction on the piano which Mr. Biel enjoyed, and some interesting variations in dynamics of which Mr. O. made the most.

"L'heure exquise" with its gorgeous arpeggios was perhaps our favorite, but we were also taken with the lively "Fetes Galantes". Upward swoops (portamenti) were well handled.

The Schubert songs were not so sunny but impressed us because Mr. O. sang them so completely "on the breath" with complete connection. Consonants were crisply enunciated but no vowel got cheated. "Die Stadt" from Schwanengesang struck us as very ominous, enhanced by a slight change in vibrato.

No program would be complete without some Handel and "Agitato da fiere tempeste" from Riccardo I, Re d'Inghilterra offered all the coloratura fireworks that we want from Baroque opera and Mr. O. handled them with panache.

Two encores were called for: Purcell's "Strike the Viol" and Vivaldi's "Vedro con mio diletto" which decorates the romantic sentiment with a lovely trill.

(c) meche kroop

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