|Michael Fennelly, Brittany Nickell, Tamara Banjesevic, James Ley, Bryan Murray, Courtney Johnson, William Guanbo Su, and Jane Shaulis|
Sunday evening was special for many reasons. The Opera Index Gala is a golden opportunity to socialize with fellow opera lovers in the beautiful Essex House on Central Park South. Most of the luminaries of the opera world were in attendance.
It is also a chance to witness the future of opera by hearing six stellar singers who filled our ears with music in between salad and steak. Trust us! With talent like this, one needn't worry about the future of opera.
Mistress of ceremonies was Opera Index President Jane Shaulis who did a fine job keeping the evening moving along briskly and giving due honors to the lovely Mignon Dunn, recipient of the Opera Index 2018 Distinguished Achievement Award. Both women possess the gracious and dynamic presence so specific to great singers.
Opera Index is a nonprofit volunteer organization with a mission to advocate for opera and support its artists. The six singers who so delighted us at the gala were among a group of sixteen young artists who received a total of $55,000. in awards. You too, dear reader, can be a member of this fine organization for the paltry membership fee of $45/year. Members have a number of activities to enjoy and share with other opera lovers.
As is our wont, we will focus on the singers and the songs, not on the amounts of the awards. The recital opened with the sparkling soprano Tamara Banjesevic who enchanted the members with Juliette's paean to life "Je veux vivre" from Charles Gounod's Roméo et Juliette. She let loose volleys of joy in fine French as she left the stage and circulated between the tables just as Juliette might have done at her birthday party.
Baritone Bryan Murray evinced oceanic depths of feeling in his performance of "Mein Sehnen mein Wähnen" from Erich Korngold's Die tote Stadt. His mellifluous baritone was well suited to the requisite sincerity of expression. His fine phrasing, superb German diction, and dynamic variety made for a splendid performance.
Soprano Courtney Johnson's performance of "Come scoglio" from Mozart's Cosi fan tutte revealed a vocal firmness that echoed Fiordiligi's firmness of character (at least at this point of the opera). This firmness extended from the bottom to the top of her register, allowing the wide skips of this difficult aria to be successfully negotiated. An impressive ease in the fioritura was icing on this delectable cake.
James Ley has the sweetest tenor which he put to good use in "Vainement, ma bien-aimée" from Edouard Lalo's rarely performed opera Le roi d'Ys. (Interestingly, one of the luminaries in attendance at the Gala was Eve Queler who conducted her Opera Orchestra of New York in a concert version of this opera in 1985!) Although this opera is in no way comedic, this particular aria is a love song sung by the knight Mylio to his lady love and Mr. Ley's light touch and delicate French were perfect, as was the accompaniment by pianist Michael Fennelly, who can always be counted on for taking his lead from the singer.
Bass William Guanbo Su is one of those young basses whose advanced vocal development belies their youth. Considered a late maturing fach, it is tempting to mentally cast him in all kinds of marvelous roles with a lengthy and enduring career. He sang "Vi ravviso", Count Rodolfo's Act I aria from Bellini's La Sonnambula and he totally convinced us that he was a man returning to the beautiful land of his childhood. It was a completely wonderful performance.
Closing the entertainment portion of the evening was soprano Brittany Nickell who employed her fine instrument with intense expressivity in "Robert, toi que j'aime" from Meyerbeer's Robert le Diable. There was ample brilliance at the top and Mr. Fennelly's piano matched the singer's urgency. We particularly admired the very fine vibrato which suited the aria perfectly.
Having heard six such excellent singers at the Gala, and a few more at the November Membership Party, we commend the judges for their fine choices. We would have happily exchanged our steak for more music! But we suppose that the belly demands its due as well as the ears and the heart.
(c) meche kroop