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 5, 2018


Craig Rutenberg, Kyle van Schoonhoven, and Heidi Melton

Among many other reasons, we love the George London Foundation because we get to hear competition winners a few years after they win; we love witnessing artistic growth. We first became aware of tenor Kyle van Schoonhoven in 2014 when Daniel Cardona put him onstage as Lt. Pinkerton in a recital of Puccini arias by the Martha Cardona Opera Theater. His sizable instrument made a sizable impression on us.  We were thinking "Wagner". He has proven us right.

Several times we heard him sing the mad scene from Britten's Peter Grimes and grew to enjoy that disturbing aria more and more. It was that performance that led to a breakout 2017 with awards not only from the George London Foundation but also the Metropolitan Opera National Council. We were overjoyed to learn that he would be singing Wagner at the recital yesterday at the Morgan Library.

Dramatic soprano Heidi Melton won her London award in 2009, before we began writing. But we did review her superb performance 3 years ago at the Schimmel Center when she dazzled us with her huge resonant sound, highly dramatic interpretations, and crisp English diction. Apparently Planet Opera has recognized her Wagnerian gifts and is keeping her busy.

That 2015 recital included Debussy's Trois Chansons de Bilitis which Ms. Melton reprised yesterday. She employed a fine vibrato that added shimmer to the sound and gave us some fine French, every word of which was comprehensible. This work requires the singer to provide three different colorations to the three songs. Ms. Melton nailed them all--the adolescent innocence and sexual awakening in "La flûte de Pan", the ripe sensuality of "La Chevelure", and the sad disillusionment of love grown cold in "Le tombeau des Naïades". She even captured the negativity and indifference of the male voice.  The contributions of collaborative pianist Craig Rutenberg added to the classical imagery.

"Isolde's Narrative and Curse" from Wagner's Tristan und Isolde was so exceptional that we reached a new level of understanding of this opera, an understanding that we did not achieve in the latest iteration at the Metropolitan Opera. First of all, there was an acoustic and linguistic clarity that was abetted by completely convincing dramatic intent and liberal employment of gesture and facial expression.

This lengthy scene requires Isolde to go through a wide range of emotions from the tender memories of nursing Tristan to rage at the injustice she is suffering, compounded by the shame of falling prey to her enemy. The performance was nothing short of riveting.

Mr. van Schoonhoven's performance was no less satisfying. He opened the afternoon with some 20th c. songs in English; that we actually enjoyed them says a lot since that is not our favorite language nor our favorite period. Ralph Vaughan Williams' "Silent Noon" was delivered with ringing tones, excellent diction, and a centered stage presence. We liked the delicacy of Mr. Rutenberg's accompaniment and Mr. Schoonhoven's equally delicate messa di voce.

That Britten set the folk song "O Waly Waly" with the same reverence he applied to W.B. Yeat's text "The Salley Gardens" reminded us of Brahms. The melodies are simple but the piano score interesting. The brief "Love Went a-Riding" by Frank Bridges benefitted from Mary Coleridge's verse which rhymed and scanned.

We never much cared for the text Wagner wrote for "Rienzi's Prayer" but the music is gorgeous and Mr. Schoonhoven applied his huge sound and a variety of dynamics to lend interest to the work. We far preferred "Mein lieber Schwan!" from Lohengrin, as the knight makes his farewell.  There we have a fortunate marriage of text and music; Mr. Schoonhoven made the most of it.

By the time these three outsized artists completed the "Bridal Chamber Scene" from Lohengrin, we had decided that this opera goes on our wish list. We have never seen it but we believe we have heard the best of it in this performance! The scene begins with warm and tender feelings on both sides until Elsa tries to get Lohengrin to identify himself.  Her suspicions have been aroused by the evil and manipulative Ortrud. The knight tries to evade her importuning but fails. We believed every dramatic moment.

After such a recital, an encore would not have been necessary but the audience demanded one and the artists generously complied with a romantic duet from Franz Lehar's operetta Der Zarewitsch in which the voices rose in sweet harmony.

It was quite an afternoon and we believe the air in the theater is still vibrating from those astonishing overtones. Mr. Rutenberg paid a well deserved tribute to our dear Nora London whose foundation has launched so many operatic careers. How happy we are that the recipients of awards return to perform. That is also a tribute!

(c) meche kroop

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