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.

Saturday, December 23, 2017


Lauren Flanigan and Friends at St. Paul and St. Andrews

Is it really 23 years since superstar soprano Lauren Flanigan began raising money for the homeless with an annual Christmas recital?  For the past couple years St. Paul and St. Andrews has been the home for the recital with proceeds from the recital going to benefit The West Side Campaign Against Hunger--not your ordinary food pantry but a community organized supermarket of healthful food for those that most need it. When government fails, the community must provide!

Ms. Flanigan's friends joined together to provide an evening's entertainment for opera lovers who bring winter coats, blankets, toys, and food. This annual event is always a highlight of the holiday season.

Leading off the evening was tenor Aaron Blake who delighted us with  "Comfort Ye/ Every Valley" from Handel's Messiah. Without a doubt, this selection was the best choice and Mr. Blake sang it with a beautiful ping in his voice and exemplary diction, making every word comprehensible, something we don't take for granted. His heartfelt delivery was matched by some delicious trills on the piano by Maestro Kamal Khan.

Ms. Flanigan's delivery of "Vieni t'affretta" from Verdi's Macbeth showed no evidence of the head cold from which she was suffering but rather thrilled us to the bone from the very first utterance of Shakespeare's text, right through the chilling recitativo and the intense aria. The exposed a capella phrasing left no doubt as to her consummate artistry.

She followed this serious song with the most delightful lighthearted cabaret song by Marc Blitzstein entitled "I Love Lechery" or "Modest Maid". A catchy tune and lyrics that were twice as clever as they had to be were given their complete due by Ms. Flanigan's witty performance.

Tenor Raul Melo was an important part of the program performing "Chanson de Kleinzach" from Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffman. He used his voice well, emphasizing the nature of this student drinking song with lots of effective acting.  We were glad he stayed around to sing the charming duet "Lippen schweigen" from Franz Lehar's Die Lustige Witwe.

Also from Les Contes d'Hoffman we heard "Scintille diamant" (Dapertutto's aria) sung by bass Daniel Sumegi who sang with great depth in his lower register.  He also sang something in a lighter vein, Irving Berlin's "White Christmas", an audience favorite.

Kenneth Overton lent his silky baritone to "Old Man River" from Jerome Kern's Showboat, an American classic. He also sang Roland Hayes' "Sister Mary Had-a But One Child".

Mark Delavan has a very different baritone, one which was perfect for "O du, mein holder Abenstern" from Richard Wagner's Tannhäuser, one of our favorite Wagner arias.

There was plenty of Wagner on the program, thanks to the presence of some sizable voices. Soprano Amy Shoremount-Obra dazzled us with "Elsa's Traum" from Lohengrin, an opera which we have never seen but want very much to.

From Wagner's Tannhäuser, mezzo-soprano Mary Ann Stewart gave an exciting performance of "Geliebter, komm" in which her overtones had overtones. From Siegfried, soprano Kirsten Chambers evinced all the excitement and tenderness of Brünnhilde's awakening in "Ewig war ich", accompanied by Keith Chambers.

Another large voice we enjoyed was that of mezzo-soprano Rachelle Pike who sang the aria of Princesse Bouillon in Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur--"Acerba voluttà". "Elektra's Monologue" from Richard Strauss' opera Elektra was given a performance, as dramatically intense as it was vocally, by soprano Elizabeth Blancke-Biggs, accompanied by Michael Recchiuti on the piano. The phrase "Agamemnon, wo bist du" was heart rending.

It was a very special moment for us when soprano Olga Makarina sang "Mi chiamano Mimi" from Puccini's La Bohème. What made it special was that one of our earliest operatic experiences was attending a master class in which Joan Dornemann coached her in that same aria! Many years have gone by but time has not dimmed the luster of her beautiful instrument. Rachmaninov's "How Fine This Spot" was beautifully performed with sensitive phrasing and dynamics.

Amy Burton and John Musto were on hand for some cabaret that everyone enjoyed.  Three selections from the oeuvre of Irving Berlin were performed with pizazz--"I'm on my way to Cuba", "Russian Lullabye", and "Let's face the music and dance".

There were some fine young up and coming artists on the program. It was a pleasure to hear mezzo-soprano Sophie Delphis, whom we reviewed last month. Her relaxed presentation worked well for "Nobles seigneurs" from Meyerbeer's Les Huguenots. Her French was parfait; the scale passages and arpeggi were finely handled.

Soprano Nadine Benjamin performed "D'amor sull'ali rosée" from Verdi's Il Trovatore with fine nuance. She knows what so many singers with high voices ignore.  High doesn't have to mean loud! Instead she floated her top notes with lovely delicacy.

There was plenty of ensemble singing as well. The Ebony Ecumenical Choir made their annual appearance offering a rousing "Go Tell it on the Mountain".

The entire cast joined forces for Adolphe Adam's "O Holy NIght", with each singer taking a phrase. It was a very generous program that seemed to fly by. Generous is the right word. The artists gave their all and so did the grateful audience.

(c) meche kroop

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