|Kyle Pfortmiller, Maestro Keith Chambers, Ira Siff, Aaron Blake, Olivia Vote, and Sandra Lopez|
The tantalizing buffet of homemade sweets and the free-flowing champagne might have distracted us from the thrilling entertainment provided by New Amsterdam Opera at their Sweet Surprise Salon. Indeed sugar is sweet but music is even sweeter and more nourishing to the spirit.
The salon inaugurated NAO's second season; if you, dear readers, read our reviews from the first season you may recall our enthusiasm for their fine Fidelio, their equally fine Forza del Destino, and a compelling gala concert--all performed with impressive professionalism and fine casting decisions.
Artistic Director Maestro Keith Chambers hand picked the quartet of singers for last night's salon and the excellent program which comprised not a single dud. There were three acts of four selections each with an opportunity to socialize before, after, and inbetween. Many luminaries of Planet Opera were in attendance and we were so happy to learn that Maestro Eve Queler of Opera Orchestra of New York has generously donated all her orchestral scores, giving NAO just the impetus they need to present more operas that deserve to be heard but are not regularly performed.
The evening was hosted by the inimitable Ira Siff--singer/educator/raconteur/writer/radio personality. We know Mr. Siff for a longer period of time than any other singer. One of his youthful performances was responsible for our love of singing. His witty introductions had the audience in stitches. He began rather straight-faced talking about the need for "budget operas" in today's economic climate but then rattled off a list that seemed to come right out of the late and lamented Gran Scena Opera Company, of which he was the star. Who remembers Madame Vera???
We always love duets, especially when the voices are well balanced. Opening the program were soprano Sandra Lopez and mezzo-soprano Olivia Vote (whom we enjoyed so much at Santa Fe Opera) singing "Belle nuit" from Jacques Offenbach's magnificent work Les contes d'Hoffman. Ms. Lopez' instrument is bright and beautiful with Ms. Vote's terrifically textured voice complementing hers to great effect. French diction was just about perfect.
If there is a more gorgeous duet for male voices than "Au fond du temple saint" from Georges Bizet's Les pecheurs de perles, we have yet to hear it. Tenor Aaron Blake joined forces with baritone Kyle Pfortmiller in this male bonding piece; both artists had an opportunity to show their dramatic chops in this emotional roller coaster. Like the two female artists, their French was impeccable.
As far as language is concerned, Mr. Pfortmiller distinguished himself with his superlative German in "Mein sehnen, mein Wahnen" from Erich Wolfgang Korngold's Die tote Stadt. This song of longing and nostalgia ends with the word "zuruck" (apologies for not having diacritical marks available) and Mr. Pfortmiller drew out the final "u" (the one with the umlaut) in an attenuated decrescendo that brought out the sentiment in a way that we have never heard before.
Readers may recall how fond we are of zarzuela and can imagine how delighted we were to hear "Maria la O" from the the 1930's work by Cuban Ernesto Lecuona. We just reviewed the same aria last week and are of the opinion that New York is ready for more zarzuela. Ms. Lopez gave it a fine performance, filled with sazon. To our ears, Spanish sings as well as Italian and caresses the ear.
Of course, there was Italian on the program as well. Ms. Vote performed "Stella del marinar", Laura's prayer for guidance from Amilcare Ponchielli La gioconda. Her vibrato was perfect and filled the room with overtones that bounced off the elaborate piano score, performed by Maestro Chambers, who was accompanist for the evening.
"Parigi, o cara" is the heartbreaking final duet from Giuseppe Verdi's La traviata, a duet filled with false hope and wishful thinking. Ms. Lopez and Mr. Blake invested it with profound emotional resonance.
Equally heartbreaking is Edgardo's aria of suicidal despair from Gaetano Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, in which Mr. Blake threw himself into the high notes with thrilling abandon.
It is rare that a piano reduction can come close to Richard Wagner's dense orchestration but Maestro Chambers got it right in "Einsam wachend in der Nacht", Brangane's Act II warning to Isolde, here performed by Ms. Vote.
Three of the artists enjoyed the opportunity to sing lighter works from the American musical theater. Mr. Blake let out all the stops for "Be My Love", popularized by Mario Lanza in 1950. It was passionate, persuasive, and very expressive.
Mr. Pfortmiller performed the English language lyrics to "Stars" from Claude-Michel Schonberg's Les Miserables. Having heard Alain Boublil's French lyrics, we would have preferred that version, but the English lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer are quite good and Mr. Pfortmiller was strong and determined and overcame our preference.
The musical Kismet has Borodin's music written all over it; indeed Robert Wright and George Forrest adapted it for the Broadway stage and it opened in 1953 with an absurdly complicated plot and Borodin's luscious music. If we are not mistaken "And This is My Beloved" comes from the third movement of his String Quartet #2. Forgetting the elaborate plot, Ms. Lopez performed the song with beauty and simplicity.
The program concluded with the festive party song from Johann Strauss II's Die Fledermaus, which brought this quartet of superb singers together in an exhibition of brotherly love-- "Sing to Love' which we know as "Bruderlein, bruderlein und Schwesterlein". Again, we prefer the original language but it was just fine.
After this banquet of vocal delights, we repaired to the banquet of gastronomical delights and shared our pleasure with the enthralled members of the audience.
The evening was a fund raiser for New Amsterdam Opera and this yearling company deserves your dollars. Their goal is to identify young talent and to give them performance opportunities right here in New York City. It seems as if the USA provides the best training for singers but is sadly lacking in performance opportunities. So many of our gifted young artists leave for Europe where their artistry is more highly valued. Let's turn that around!
(c) meche kroop