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.

Friday, October 6, 2017


Joshua Conyers, Kasia Borowiec, Kelsey Robertson, Derrek Stark, and Timothy Cheung

The Palme d'Or is a French award given in the film industry.  But we would like to offer a Golden Palm to Palm Beach Opera for their impressive success in fostering the growth of young singers. More on that later but let's begin with the four splendid singers who graced the stage of Scorca Hall last night at the National Opera Center.

In a very brief hour that seemed to fly by, we got a very good picture of the wide ranging gifts of these four artist who came to represent Palm Beach Opera, founded in 1961. Three of the artists were known to us and one was a wonderful discovery. 

We first heard soprano Kasia Borowiec four years ago in Virgil Thomson's The Mother of Us All at Manhattan School of Music. The following year we heard her Giulietta in Bellini's I Capuleti e i Montecchi. In the summer of 2016 at Santa Fe Opera we loved her Tatiana and we guess SFO loved her equally because they cast her in the title role of Rimsky-Korsakov's The Golden Cockerel!

Last night we heard even more of her. Her rich lyric soprano was employed effectively in "Porgi amor" from Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro which she performed with a touching combination of dignity and despair.  In "Das war sehr gut, Mandryka" from Richard Strauss' Arabella, we were dazzled by the soaring expansion of her upper register.

In the duet "Prendero quel brunettino" from Mozart's Cosi fan tutte, we noticed that she does very well as a scene partner, abandoning her modest self-presentation to relate warmly and appropriately with mezzo-soprano Kelsey Robertson who portrayed Dorabella to Ms. Borowiec's Fiordiligi.

Similarly she responded with touching innocence to the Pinkerton of tenor Derek Stark in "Vogliatemi bene" from Puccini's Madama Butterfly. The multipotentiality of her artistry will be great fun to watch as it evolves.

We heard the terrific tenor Derrek Stark two years in a row in Santa Fe as part of the Apprentice Artists Program.  In 2015 he was a delightful David in Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg, and the following year we enjoyed his Edgardo in Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor.

Last night we could appreciate how his voice has grown in his stirring performance of "E lucevan le stelle" from Puccini's Tosca which he imbued with deep emotion and dynamic variety. He seems to be headed in a Puccini direction, performing the role of Pinkerton (with Ms. Borowiec) with appropriate arrogance, clearly showing that her worshipful adoration was met with his lust.

In "O Mimi, tu piu non torni" from Puccini's La Boheme, his Rodolfo was well matched by baritone Joshua Conyers, as the two men lament their lost loves in gorgeous harmony. 

We also remember Mr. Conyers from his performances in the Apprentice Program of Santa Fe Opera where we heard him in 2013 and 2014 singing Berlioz, Handel, and Puccini. He has a sizable voice of power and dimension which made him a compelling Tonio, delivering the prologue to Leoncavallo's Pagliacci--"Si puo", successfully drawing the audience into the brutal drama to follow.

His powerful baritone was just right for "O Tixo, Tixo, help me" from Kurt Weill's Lost in the Stars, an eloquent depiction of moral crisis as the priest tries to decide whether to counsel his son to lie and save his life or tell the truth and hang. A tragic tale well told! And Mr. Conyers' English diction was so fine that we understood every word. And that's never to be taken for granted.

New to us was mezzo-soprano Kelsey Robertson who made an excellent impression and left us wanting more. She has a graceful and winning stage presence, a lovely mezzo texture to her instrument, and fine skills with fioritura. 

The material she chose was perfect to highlight her special skills. We do love our Rossini and hardly ever get to hear his Tancredi. Ms. Robertson's performance of "Di tanti palpiti" evinced precision in the ornamentation and skips. No carelessness there!

Similarly "Dopo notte" from Handel's Ariodante was performed in apt baroque style and emotional expression achieved not just in the voice but in facial expression and bodily gesture. These same skills were brought to bear on the Cosi duet which was completely charming, especially at the end with both she and Ms. Borowiec jumping for joy as they considered flirting with the two "new" men. This is an artist we cannot wait to hear again.

The capstone of the program was the final quartet from Verdi's Rigoletto, performed with dramatic commitment and gorgeous vocal blending. Ms. Borowiec's Gilda was appropriately shocked and dismayed, Mr. Conyers' Rigoletto was partly sympathetic and partly confrontational, Ms. Robertson's Maddalena was cynical but half won over, and Mr. Stark's Duke was even more lustful than his Pinkerton. (Is there a theme here?)

Accompanist for the evening was pianist Timothy Cheung.

The audience was welcomed by Laura Lee Everett, Director of Artistic Services at Opera America. The Emerging Artist Recitals reflect the joint efforts of Opera America and its member companies to identify and nurture the careers of the most promising young artists. These recitals are live streamed to a growing international audience so that these young artists are exposed to producers and casting professionals. What a win-win situation!

Palm Beach Opera is one of the member companies participating in this excellent program. They have an Apprentice Artist Program which offers a 5-month residency to recent graduates who aim to gain experience at the professional level and also receive regular coaching and onstage experience.

They also have The Benenson Young Artist Program for post-graduate and emerging singers--also a 5-month residency in which they get performance opportunities and guidance from the artistic staff of the company. The four singers we heard tonight belong to a group of 18.

Furthermore they offer community outreach and educational opportunities. We award Palm Beach Opera a Golden Palm!

(c) meche kroop

Joshua Conyers, Kasia Borowiec, Kelsey Robertson, Derrek Stark, and Timothy Cheung at the National Opera Center (photo by Frank Ammaccapane, Natural Expressions NY Photography)

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