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.

Monday, October 30, 2017


Mark Markham, Leah Crocetto, and Zachary Nelson

Yesterday's torrential downpour did nothing to dissuade us and a hall full of fans from attending the first recital of this season's series at The Morgan Library--a celebration of the human voice produced in collaboration with The George London Foundation for Singers.  The Foundation presents the finest singers of the world's stages for us to enjoy in an intimate environment. They also hold an annual competition giving generous awards to rising vocal stars.

Although the superb collaborative pianist Mark Markham is world famous, this was our first hearing of his consummate and subtle artistry which is remarkable by virtue of not calling attention to itself. On the other hand, we have been thrilling to the vocal gifts of soprano Leah Crocetto and baritone Zachary Nelson for as long as we have been writing and even before.

Ms. Crocetto first captured our attention when we reviewed her performance as Anna in the rarely heard Rossini opera Maometto II. We were dazzled by her artistry in her New York recital debut at the Schimmel Center of Pace University when she used her plush instrument and embracing stage presence in the service of Strauss, Duparc, and Liszt.

Her performance as Donna Anna in Mozart's Don Giovanni was the highlight of the 2016 season at the Santa Fe Opera. All reviews are archived and accessible through the search bar.

Similarly, we have been following the meteoric rise of Mr. Nelson's star. He first came to our attention as an Apprentice Singer at the Santa Fe Opera. His first role there was that of Angelotti in Puccini's Tosca. They were just as impressed as we were, inviting him back to sing the role of Figaro in Mozart's Nozze di Figaro. He was just about perfect.

He delighted us with his comic side in Donizetti's Don Pasquale in which he sang the role of Dottore Malatesta. He continued his connection with the Santa Fe Opera last summer when we heard him as the detestable Enrico in Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor.

What a pleasure it is to document the growth and development of these two artists who complimented one another onstage at yesterday's recital!  What they have in common is a total commitment to what they are singing--and the ability to connect with the audience who can then share in their feelings.

But there are differences of approach, both valid. Ms. Crocetto is expansive in her presentation making ample use of gesture, whilst Mr. Nelson is self contained and employs gesture economically.

When the two came together for the penultimate scene of Verdi's Il Trovatore, their individual styles served them well and provided the highlight of the recital. In "Mira, d'acerbe lagrime" poor Leonora pleads Il Conte di Luna to spare the life of her lover Manrico. He is unmoved. Finally she offers her favors for his life. He is moved! But she, faithful to Manrico, swallows poison, in true 19th c. operatic fashion. 

It is quite a challenge to take a scene out of an opera and perform it convincingly, but this pair of artists succeeded brilliantly. We believed every minute and felt every feeling.

Individual performances were also superlative. We have previously reviewed Ms. Crocetto's artistry in Liszt's Petrarch Sonnets and find they suit her well. The obsessionality of Petrarch comes through loud and clear. There are some lovely arpeggi in the piano between the verses of "I vidi in terra angelici costumi".

We also enjoyed the Rachmaninoff songs, especially our favorite Russian song "Ne poy, krasavitsa, pri mnye" with its exotic mournful melody. In "Vokaliz, Op 34, No. 14" we were able to appreciate the warmth and purity of tone and the plethora of overtones that tickled our ears and filled the hall, wall to wall.

Mr. Nelson's individual choices suited his dramatic baritone well. The lower register of his voice seems to be deepening and expanding. Selections from Schubert's Schwanengesang mainly utilized the text of Heinrich Heine. We loved the major/minor shifts in "Das Fischermadchen". The cheeriness of this song yielded to the the grief of "Die Stadt" with the arpeggiated diminished 7th chord lending an eerie feeling.

The grimness of "Der Doppelganger" (just heard two days earlier at a Cantanti Project evening) gave way to the joy of "Die Taubenpost" with text by Johann Gabriel Seidl. Mr. Nelson's German was just about flawless.

Ralph Vaughan Williams' Songs of Travel will never be among our favorites but we did enjoy "The Roadside Fire" and particularly admired Mr. Nelson's excellent diction, something we never take for granted when English is sung.

The final selection on the program was the delightful duet "If I Loved You" from Richard Rodgers' Carousel. When we think of American Art Song, this is what comes to mind, not what is coming out of conservatories. This relates to 20th c. American culture the way Schubert's oeuvre related to 19th c. German culture. Ms. Crocetto and Mr. Nelson performed it so charmingly and so vocally astute that we were swept away.

Both encores spoke to us in similar fashion. Mr. Nelson sang "Some Enchanted Evening" from Richard Rodgers' South Pacific so magnificently that our belief stated above was confirmed. In both cases, the lyrics of Oscar Hammerstein II partnered with Rodgers' music as Heine's did with Schubert's music.

Ms. Crocetto's encore was a very jazzy "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" from Jerome Kern's Showboat, with lyrics also by Oscar Hammerstein. Mostly, we don't enjoy "crossover" but this was a very special performance and just might change our minds about jazz. With an incredible artist like Ms. Crocetto bending those notes we were even more convinced of what Steven Blier is doing at his New York Festival of Song, mixing classical lieder with contemporary songs.

A good song is a good song.  And a great singer can make a good song great.

(c) meche kroop

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