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.

Friday, March 23, 2018


Chris Reynolds and Natalia Kutateladze

Chris Reynolds and Felicia Moore

Last night we attended the Juilliard Vocal Arts Honors Recital at Alice Tully Hall. Voice teachers nominate singers to audition for this honor and the competition is keen. One of the judges happened to be Jennifer Zetlan, a Juilliard alumna whom we just reviewed last night in On Site Opera's Morning Star.  

Each singer chose her own program and both were accompanied by the talented collaborative pianist Chris Reynolds.

The ravishing mezzo-soprano Natalia Kutateladze opened her half of the program with a chanson by Jules Massenet; The text by Louis Pierre Gabriel Bernard Morel-Retz, entitled "Amoureuses" was highly romantic and Ms. Kutateladze performed it in perfect French with spot-on phrasing.

A set of songs by Tchaikovsky showed how they sound at their very best, sung by someone so comfortable in the language that the songs are more inhabited than performed. Although we do not speak or understand Russian, we were able to appreciate the marvelous marriage of music and text.

"None but the Lonely Heart" is a setting of a Russian translation of Goethe's text "Nur wer die sehnsucht kennt" from Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre, a text so potent that it appealed to a list of composers longer than the text. We mostly know it as one of the Mignon songs.

"Was I Not a Blade of Grass in the Field?" struck us with the sadness of a young woman married off to a man she does not love. She compares herself to a blade of grass that was mowed down.

Tolstoy's text "Amidst the Din of the Ball" motivated Tchaikovsky to write a most marvelous and memorable melody. A man sees a woman at a ball and thinks he has fallen in love with her.

With all that gorgeous melody, we still think the Pushkin text "Don't Sing to Me, My Beauty" is our favorite Russian song. Rachmaninoff gave it a haunting melody that could make anyone homesick. Each and every one of these Russian songs was sung with artistry and deep emotional commitment.

The final set on the program comprised Manuel de Falla's Siete canciones populares españolas.  The advantage for us was that we understand Spanish and thus were able to appreciate Ms. Kutateladze's skill for word coloration and the creation of a mood. We adore this cycle, the first song of which gives us an ironic metaphor for men's negative attitude towards women's sexual expression. "El Paño Moruno" describes a cloth that has lost its value because of a stain.

The same judgmental attitude appears in "Seguidilla murciana", only this time the metaphor is a coin that has passed from hand to hand so much that it has become blurry and no one will accept it!

"Asturiana" is a song of deep sorrow and the search for consolation in nature, whereas "Nana" is a tender lullaby. "Canción" tells of lost love in a mournful way, whilst "Polo" tells of lost love in an angry bitter way.

It was a revelation to hear Ms. Kutateladze create the right mood for each song and to color each important word in a way that extracted every ounce of significance. With her gorgeous instrument, vital stage presence, intense involvement, and consummate musicianship, this is an artist to watch, one destined for stardom. Watch for her in the upcoming Juilliard Opera next month.

Soprano Felicia Moore walks onstage with such presence that one knows in advance that one is in for a treat.  Of course, having heard her many times before, we have advance knowledge. We can tell when a singer loves to sing!

One doesn't get enough Sibelius at song recitals so we were happy that Ms. Moore decided to invest so much energy into learning to sing in Swedish. From Five Songs, Op. 37, she sang one we'd never heard "Soluppgång", and two we know and love.

"Flickan kom ifrån sin älsklings mote" tells of a girl who hides the signs of a lovers' meeting from her mother until she suffers from her lover's abandonment.  "Var det en dröm" is a song of nostalgia in which the poet recalls his lost love as a dream. Ms. Moore invested each song with depth and meaning.

Her gleaming instrument was put to good use in songs from Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder. We particularly loved the way collaborative pianist Chris Reynolds created a meditative mood for "Im Treibhaus" in which Wesendonck uses the metaphor of plants in a hothouse to represent the feelings of someone who is far from their homeland. We speculated that she herself was away from home but we were wrong.  She was German through and through.

In "Stehe still!",  Mr. Reynolds hands created the pianistic equivalent of a perpetual motion machine, indicating the rushing of time. Ms. Moore responded in beautiful partnership. By the fourth verse, things have calmed down and both artists responded with lyricism to the concept of souls sinking into each other.

"Traume" recreates the evanescent world of dreams in a highly poetic way and gave Ms. Moore another opportunity to create a sound world of delicacy.

Her program ended with selections from Aaron Copland's Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson. We confess to no great love for poet or composer, which didn't stop us from appreciating Ms. Moore's superb performance. There were little touches that lent a high degree of artistry such as the enhanced vibrato on the final word of "Nature, the Gentlest Mother" and the way she left the final note of "The Chariot" hanging in the air.

The cutest song was the most timely--"Dear March, Come In!" a cute sentiment that made us want to like Dickinson more than we do.  It is just a fact that each of us has his/her taste and ours leans toward any language but English and any period prior to (but including) Richard Strauss!

That being said, Copland wrote some very interesting figures for the piano part of "Nature, the Gentlest Mother", and Mr. Reynolds' smashing piano technique and interpretive artistry brought them out.

Like nearly all the singers coming out of Juilliard Vocal Arts Department, Ms. Moore evinces those Juilliard qualities--presence, dramatic skills, expressive vocal technique, fine phrasing, and linguistic skills.  There must be something in the water!

(c) meche kroop

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