|Fernando Cisneros, Riccardo Gatto, Sandra Buongrazio, Meixu Lu, Xiaojie Fan, Feifei Yang, Jiajun Hong, Yuxiao Chen, Xiaofen Min, Jinghan Zhang, Zhongbei Wu, and Qian Liang|
The first half of the program was a splendid introduction to the predominantly Chinese audience of opera from Italy and France, as well as German operetta. It was wise to choose selections from Verdi, Puccini, Mozart, Bizet, Donizetti, and Lehar. Every selection was tuneful and accessible, not to mention superbly performed.
Opening the program was Ms. Zhang, whose luminescent soprano was well matched by the silky baritone of Fernando Cisneros, whose impeccable linguistic skills are a product of some intense work with Classic Lyric Arts programs. They performed "Pronto io son" from Donizetti's Don Pasquale.
Mr. Cisneros made an impressively virile Escamillo in Bizet's Carmen, strutting around the stage with just the right degree of self confidence, bordering on arrogance. He went on to command the stage as Figaro in "Non più andrai" from Mozart's Nozze di Figaro. It was a treat to see him take on such a variety of roles, inhabiting each one as if he owned it.
Mezzo-soprano Sandra Buongrazio threw herself into her performance of Carmen's "Habanera" with all the right moves and a smoky sound that was just right.
We liked her even more in "O don fatale" from Verdi's Don Carlo in which the larger than life Princess Eboli shows her remorse for entrapping her Queen. The overtones filled the hall and we noticed how Mr. Hong's piano and Ms. Bunograzio's voice changed color at the same point in the aria.
Having just seen Puccini's Tosca at The Metropolitan Opera, we were very ready to hear an alternative interpretation of "Vissi d'arte" and enjoyed Ms. Buongrazio's passion and commitment, emphasized with dynamic variety.
It is always a treat to hear a tenor who sings with ease and Riccardo Gatto is just such an artist. Tenors risk a great deal when they take on an aria made famous by Luciano Pavarotti. Mr. Gatto owes no apologies for his very excellent performance of "Che gelida manina" from Puccini's La Bohème. It was performed with all the ardor of a young writer trying to impress a new woman.
In "Nessun dorma" his color changed completely and his performance was expansive, in keeping with the expression of Prince Calaf.
The quartet from Verdi's Rigoletto is a real showstopper and almost always appears on programs by Judith Fredrick's Opera New York. It shows off all four fachs and requires exquisite balance among them. In this case, Ms. Zhang, Ms. Buongrazio, Mr. Gatto, and Mr. Cisneros were well matched and balanced.
The second half of the program brought some very special treats. The stage was filled with Chinese musical instruments commingled with Western ones. Our evenings spent reviewing Chinese music were excellent preparation for recognizing the haunting bamboo flute, the elaborate zither-like guzheng, the slender erhu, and the gorgeous pipa, which is plucked upright.
We heard the premiere of Qian Liang's "Spring's rosy color fades from forest flowers". Oh, if only contemporary American composers could be as melodic! Ms. Zhang sang it with tender word painting, and was no less lovely in a Xin Jiang Folk Song "Si Lian" that had the feeling of a barcarolle but was actually about longing. Still...our thoughts turned to Venice and Rossini.
Mr. Hong and Ms. Zhang seemed to be celebrating their own love in "Lippen schweigen" from Lehar's Die Lustige Witwe. Mr. Hong left the piano and sang the duet with his wife; we even got a waltz!
We wondered who wrote the arrangements of Western music for the interesting ensemble of piano, cello, violin, bamboo flute, erhu, pipa and guzheng. This genius' name is Wenhao Pei and he deserves a lot of credit.
The program closed with three Italian songs. Mr. Gatto let loose with "Non ti scordar di me", written for Beniamino Gigli by Ernesto de Curtis, and popularized in our generation by Mr. Pavarotti. The singer subtly enhanced his vibrato for this piece and was accompanied by Xiaojie Fan's exquisite violin solo. Mr. Curtis was also the composer of "Torna a Surriento". Eduardo di Capua was the composer of the final selection "O sole mio" in which the entire ensemble participated.
Praise must be offered to Xiaopeng Teng who directed the opera scenes.
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