|Susan Woodruff and her students at Mannes School of Music|
What a wealth of talent we witnessed onstage last night! We saw scenes from 10 wonderful operas--all favorites--and Benjamin Britten's Canticle II. Every student onstage had excellent technique, fine diction, and convincing dramatic skills. We were impressed that the students themselves did the direction. Minus sets and costumes, the acting was sufficient to establish the situation. Moreover, the excellent titles projected behind the singers gave the background to the scene and its place in the opera. Even a person who had never seen an opera could have sat there and enjoyed the singing and the drama.
Scenes were carefully chosen to highlight the skills of each singer and not one was pushed beyond his/her capabilities. Thankfully, there was no Verdi, Puccini or Wagner--not that we don't love them but we hate to hear young singers pushing their voices.
We simply don't know where to begin extolling the virtues of this splendid group of singers. The program opened and closed with counter-tenor Siman Chung (and regular readers will recall how much we love this fach); he opened with the Britten, singing Isaac to tenor John Park's Abraham. We have lost no love on bible stories but the sound of their two voices joined as the voice of God was otherworldly. Mr. Chung closed the program singing Tancredi to the Amenaide of soprano Lauren Yokabaskas in the Rossini opera; there was a great deal of excitement in the fiery second part of the duet.
Ms. Yokabaskas also excelled as Vitige to Allison Gish's Teodata in Handel's Flavio, Re de Longobardi, an opera we would love to hear in toto. She also made a marvelously dignified Donna Anna in a scene from Mozart's Don Giovanni.
Allison Gish demonstrated talent in a variety of roles as well: she seems to have an affinity for Handel, doing justice to the role of Cornelia in Handel's Giulio Cesare in Egitto with mezzo-soprano Yinpei Han as her son Sesto. She also did well as Romeo in a scene from Bellini's I Capuleti e I Montecchi. She was also one of the three henchwomen of the Queen of the Night tormenting Papageno, sung by baritone Sunyeop Hwang.
Mr. Hwang put in an appearance as Lorenzo in the Bellini and as the Count in Mozart's Nozze di Figaro. That scene was particularly well done with Xiuyan Fan as his Countess and Ana Capetillo as Susanna. Ms. Capetillo was excellent as Manon in the eponymous opera by Massenet, creating a character that projected innocence with a hint of wildness going on underneath. Her ardent suitor Des Grieux was sung by tenor Fanyong Du with a pleasant ease of tone.
Baritone Matthew Cossack showed a great deal of versatility and a good sense of humor as the much put-upon Taddeo to Yinpei Han's Isabella (in Rossini's L'Italiana in Algeri). with Ms. Han as confident in her coloratura as she was in her characterization. Mr. Cossack made a persuasive Don Giovanni trying to seduce Zerlina (the very winning Malorie Casimir, who excels at being adorable).
Ms. Casimir made a superb Sophie in the final trio of Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier. This just might be our very favorite trio of all time and we loved the way Ms. Casimir's voice blended with that of Courtney Johnson as the Marschallin and Wan Zhao as Octavian. Each character voices her innermost thoughts and come together in a blend that fills and satisfies us.
Ms. Casimir also sang Giulietta with Wan Zhao as her Romeo in a kind of "tag-team" presentation of the scene in which Romeo tries to persuade her to run away with him. This was not Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet but we loved it just the same. Ms. Zhao was very forceful!
We heard Ms. Johnson's richly textured soprano as the very angry Donna Elvira trying to rescue Ms. Casimir from Mr. Cossack's clutches in the scene from Don Giovanni. Janggon Kim sang the role of Don Ottavio.
We must not forget to mention the other two ladies (henchwomen) from Die Zauberflote. Joining Ms. Gish in giving Papageno a hard time were Ms. Johnson and Wan Zhao. That just might be our second favorite trio! Janggon Kim was Tamino.
That was a lot of singing and performing to digest and we apologize if we left anyone out. The scenes were accompanied by Ms. Woodruff at the piano. She deserves to be proud of her students and there isn't one we wouldn't want to listen to again.
(c) meche kroop