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.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017


Nathaniel Nasa and Maria Fernanda Brea

Michal Biel and Xiaomeng Zhang

It is the height of irony that this is the second time that the same two young singers had recitals scheduled simultaneously--once at Manhattan School of Music and yesterday at Juilliard. What can a poor reviewer do in such cases? We have been enjoying and writing about both artists for years and didn't want to shortchange either of them. Until we figure out how to clone ourselves, we pursued the least negative course of action. We ran back and forth from one recital to the other and managed to hear some of each one.

We first heard baritone Xiaomeng Zhang when he gave his graduation recital at Manhattan School of Music two years ago, impressing us with his linguistic skills and bel canto artistry. Since then we have seen him on the opera stage at Juilliard a few times--as Giove in Cavalli's La Calisto, as the diplomat in Jonathan Dove's Flight, and also in Viktor Ullman's Der Kaiser von Atlantis.  He has continued to grow in artistry over the past two years whilst working on his Artist Diploma.

Yesterday's program included several of the works that he performed at his graduation recital, giving us the opportunity to observe changes. His voice remains flexible in the bel canto, witness his delightful rendering of Dr. Malatesta in Donizetti's Don Pasquale (bouncing off the delightful guest artist, soprano Meigui Zhang in "Pronto io son").  Yet it has also deepened and showed a great deal of breadth in the lower register.  We can't wait to see which roles open up for him in the future.

This newish resonance served him particularly well in Ravel's final work Don Quichotte a Dulcinee which, he pointed out, was left unfinished--an inheritance for Jacques Ibert.  Michal Biel's superb pianistic collaboration emphasized the pungent rhythms of "Chanson romanesque" and both artists achieved a soulful reverence in "Chanson epique".  Show me a singer who doesn't love a good drinking song and I'll show you a dud!  It's a counterpart to an actor's "death scene". Mr. Zhang made the most of "Chanson a boire".

Mr. Zhang gave an unfussy performance of the melodic "O del mio dolce ardor" from Christoph Gluck's Paride ed Elena, and a highly expressive account of Bellini's "Vaga luna che inargenti" with its long lyrical lines. We enjoyed the expressiveness in Verdi's "Non t'accostare all'urna" with its profoundly bitter text.

Paolo Tosti's "Non t'amo piu" was rendered with high emotionality as befits the ironic lyrics.

We almost got to hear Schubert's "Erlkonig" from the beginning but we didn't quite make it.  What we did hear of our favorite Schubert song was quite good and we can see that Mr. Zhang has worked on varying the coloration of the four different voices. We can't be sure because of not hearing the entire song but we think more work needs to be done on differentiation.

We first heard Venezuelan soprano Maria Fernanda Brea four years ago when she portrayed Giannetta in Donizetti's  L'elisir d'amore, as part of Martina Arroyo's Prelude to Performance. That program did well by her and we heard her in master classes with Reri Grist and Tito Capobianco--(and later in master classes with Richard Bonynge and Emmanuelle Villaume) whilst she was preparing for her starring role as Marie in Donizetti's Fille du Regiment. She won great critical acclaim for that performance!

We reviewed her as an undergraduate at Manhattan School of Music in Lehar's Das Land des Lachelns. She has been earning her Master of Music degree at Juilliard and we have heard some pretty fine Strauss at a Liederabend.

Yesterdays's recital gave us a glimpse of another aspect of her artistry. We caught her in a couple of our favorite songs by Joaquin Turina--our favorite "Los dos miedos" and "Las locas por amor", both excellent. Her collaborative pianist for these was the excellent Cherie Roe.

Later, when we returned to the hall, the superb Nathaniel LaNasa was at the piano and we heard some truly fine French in Alfred Bachelet's "Chere nuit" in which Ms. Brea's voice soared with passion. Even better were two Debussy songs. We love "Chevaux de bois" which was filled with excitement at the outset, giving way to introspection at the conclusion.  The moody "L'ombre des arbres" rose to a climax of despair.

The next time we returned to the hall, we were just in time to hear her collaboration with Venezuelan Jorge Glem who accompanied her on the cuatro, which appears to be something between a ukulele and a guitar with four strings.

The two compatriotas made beautiful music together, first with a Venezuelan folk song by Simon Diaz "Tonada de Luna Liena" and then with Pablo Camacaro's "La Negra Atilia" in merengue rhythm.  We were astonished at the sound she produced at the very very bottom of the register.

Mr. Glem strummed and tapped his cuatro and Ms. Brea danced along, having a marvelously relaxed time of it and delighting the audience, especially when she was given a Venezuelan flag which she wrapped around her shoulders.

We wish we might have cloned ourselves and enjoyed every delicious minute of both recitals but we can only be at one place at one time. We hope there will be further opportunities to enjoy both these fine artists.

(c) meche kroop

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