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, March 12, 2018


Anna Viemeister, Christine Moore Vassallo, Chantal Balestri, Nardo Poy, Juan Jose Lazaro, and Jeffrey Swann at the National Opera Center

Has it always been this popular for young opera singers to study abroad? We have noticed so many programs offering summer instruction; last night we were introduced to a new one with the romantic name of Lunigiana International Music Festival which will offer a new program of lessons, master classes, competitions, and concerts in the Tuscan town of Fivizzano from June 18th through June 28th.

By way of introduction Co-Founder and Artistic Director Chantal Balestri organized a concert to present the faculty for this festival, in which students and faculty will lodge and dine at the same hotel. The plan is to keep the all-in costs to a minimum.

Students of all ages will be accepted; voice, piano, and string instruments will be taught. Some unusual venues for performances have been planned. Some of the faculty members performed last night for an audience that included several luminaries in the field.

The program opened and closed with music by Chopin, sensitively performed by Jeffrey Swann. The opener was the lovely Nocturne op. 15 n.2 in F-Sharp Major to which Mr. Swann applied just the right rubato, dynamic variation, and a light touch for the embellishments of the line which, in vocal music, would be called fioritura. Would it be fair to call Chopin a bel canto composer?

The closing piece was the elaborate Ballade op.23 n.1 in G Minor, in which we heard a succession of diverse themes in different moods. Mr. Swann explained how the Ballade tells a story and, we opine, each listener can apply his or her own story.

As far as the vocal music which comprised most of the program, we were riveted by mezzo-soprano Anna Viemeister's performance of Eboli's aria "O Don Fatale" from Verdi's Don Carlo, one of our favorite operas. In this barn-burner, the Princess Eboli is filled with remorse for getting her beloved Queen in trouble. She blames her beauty. Ms. Viemeister was convincing both vocally and dramatically, with some wonderful sounds at the bottom of her register.

We can say the same about the equally passionate "Voi lo sapete", from Mascagni's verismo masterpiece Cavalleria Rusticana. We have not heard this role sung by a mezzo but the high notes were tossed off easily and we enjoyed the shifts in color as Santuzza reflects on her original happiness and eventual shame.

Soprano Christine Moore Vassallo played to her vocal strengths in the upper register in "Vissi d'arte" from Puccini's Tosca. We were happy to hear her in opera because both women used the loathed music stand for their lieder selections.

We were very interested in the two settings of the same text written in the Baroque period by one Lope Felix de Vega Carpio. Eduard Toldrá set it in 1940 and entitled it "Cantarcillo", part of his Seis canciones Castellanas  It is a lullaby for the baby Jesus sung by his mother, in this case, Ms. Vassallo.

We might never have recognized it as the same text Brahms used for his "Geistliches Wiegenlied" in 1884, for which Emmanuel Geibel adapted Carpio's text. Brahms scored it for alto, piano, and viola. Ms. Vassallo sang, Nardo Poy played the viola, and Juan Jose Lazaro gave us the same high quality piano we enjoyed as accompaniment for all the singing. The only disappointment was the presence of the music stand.

We also enjoyed Ms. Viemeister's performance of "Gestillte Sehnsucht", another work Brahms scored for piano, viola and alto. We will add that the German diction was excellent.

With talent such as we heard last night, the students accepted into this summer program will be fortunate indeed. We wish Lunigiana great success in their inaugural season and hope the success will be "over the moon". Co-Founder Andrea Rossi was not present last night but shared the dream of Ms. Balestri who did a fine job of describing the program.

(c) meche kroop

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