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.

Sunday, April 22, 2018


Michigan Opera Theater Studio Artists at National Opera Center

Dear Readers,

Allow us to introduce you to our guest reviewer Ellen Godfrey, an opera lover with lifelong experience at the Metropolitan Opera, now serving on the boards of Opera Index and Martina Arroyo's Prelude to Performance.  The recital of the Michigan Opera Studio was too compelling to go unreviewed and we were busy reviewing Mark Padmore's recital.  So...enjoy!


On Thursday, April 19, Opera America presented, as part of the Emerging Artist Recital Series, a concert by the Michigan Opera Theatre Studio, which features promising young singers on the brink of a great opera career.  MOT studio artists, now in its fourth season, fulfilled a dream of Michigan Opera founder and composer Dr. David Di Chiera, to create an advanced training program for young singers. The Director of the Resident Artists Program is the worldwide renowned opera tenor Richard Leech. With the support of the Studio’s principal coach and accompanist Tessa Hartle, they provide outstanding training and performance opportunities for the young singers.

Each season MOT selects five singers for either a one or two year commitment from June to April for advanced training in repertoire, vocal coaching, role preparation, acting and language study. In addition, legendary opera singers conduct masterclasses. This outstanding program is underwritten by a major grant from the William Davidson Foundation.  Performance opportunities include featured and supporting roles in MOT main stage productions and an enhanced presence in the community through participation in leading roles in community productions as well as outreach to Detroit Public Schools.

The five talented singers chosen for this season were Monica Dewey, soprano; Briana Elyse Hunter, mezzo-soprano; Michael Day, tenor; Harry Greenleaf, baritone; and Erik Van Heyningen, bass-baritone. All of them have performed in major opera houses. Among them the Santa Fe Opera, the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, San Francisco Opera, and Wolf Trap. Many have received important awards in major vocal competitions.

Wayne. S. Brown, President and CEO of the Michigan Opera Theatre welcomed the audience to the concert. The selections for the concert were carefully chosen to highlight each singers vocal and performing qualities.  

The concert opened with a dazzling display of vocal fireworks by bass-baritone Erik Van Heyningen as The King of Jerusalem in Handel’s Rinaldo. His aria “Sibilar gli angui d’Alletto"…..(the hissing of Alecto’s serpents ) requires an astonishing amount of breath  control and he was more than up to the task.  His burnished bass-baritone projected the power of the king.  Later in the concert, he showed both his language and vocal versatility singing an aria in Russian from Alexander Borodin’s Prince Igor --“Ni San ni otdycha”.  Igor can’t sleep and is dejected about being taken prisoner.  Erik pulled out all of the emotions of this great aria. This summer he returns to Santa Fe Opera to perform in Madama Butterfly and Candide.  In the fall he will attend The Juilliard School for an artist diploma in opera studies.

Tenor Michael Day sang a beautiful  "De’miei bollenti spiriti” from Verdi’s La Traviata.  He has a bright tenor sound and a big voice.  His Italian was excellent and through his facial expressions and his body language, he projected Alfredo’s love for Violetta.  Love came calling again later in the program with a sensitive performance of the song “Maria” from Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story.  He started off singing softly and increased the volume slowly as he expressed his undying love for Maria. His final "Marias" in head voice were spell-binding.  He returns next fall to MOT.  This summer he will perform the role of Leo Hubbard in Blitzstein’s Regina at the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Michael Day and Erik van Heyningen showed that they are equally good in comic opera as well.. both of them enjoying the comedy.  In  the duet “Voglio dire…Obbligato” from Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore. Michael Day sang the love sick Nemorino desperate for an elixir of love which Dr. Dulcamara, sung by Erik Van Heyningen was more then happy to supply.  Their voices blended very well and the audience delighted in their performances.

Mezzo-soprano Briana Elyse Hunter sang a heart-felt aria from Gluck’s Orphée et  Eurdice..."Amour viens rendre a mon âme”. Orphée calls on the gods to bring his dead wife back to life or he will join her in death. This is another aria full of fioritura and Briana sang it fearlessly.  Her mezzo voice is distinctive and lush and she has great stage presence.  Later in the program she moved effortlessly from Baroque opera to the 21at century opera Doctor Atomic by John Adams.. “Am I in your light” is a reflection on love and death and was sung with great warmth. 

Briana and soprano Monica Dewey sang a sweet melodic duet from Ricky Ian Gordon’s opera 27…which explores the relationship between Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. The duet “The Bells. That Chime” …the bells chime “genius” ring for each of them. This is very original music. Each time they sang the word “ring” there is an imitation of a ring by going up and down the scale or a slow trill. When they sang together their voices blended beautifully. Both Briana and Monica will be Performing with the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Monica Dewey joined with baritone Harry Greenleaf for a duet from Ricky Ian Gordon’s The Grapes of Wrath. The music had a nice bouncy sound and they were a convincing couple.  They worked well together with clear diction, and nice vocal shading.

Monica showed her spunk in a delightful performance of the cantabile “Par le rang et par l’opulence” followed by the cabaletta "Salut a la France" from Donizetti’s La Fille du Regiment. The first part of the aria is slow and sad…and she sang it with great beauty ..she is sad because she is separated from Tonio …suddenly she hears the sounds of the soldiers in the distance and her mood changes to joy.  She sings the song of the regiment; "Salut a la France"…full of fioritura and octave leaps. She has a brilliant and sparking sound and her voice grew larger as she ascended to the high notes,

Harry Greenleaf  sang an aria from Britten’s Billy Budd --“Look! Through  the port comes the moonshine astray”which he sang in a a subdued and pensive manner with his attractive and smooth baritone voice and very clear English diction. He captured Billy’s feelings as he contemplates death. Harry later sang an aria from David DiChiera’s opera Cyrano, in which the eponymous Cyrano is contemplating his own death. Once again he created a whole picture of Cyrano’s thoughts and sadness, singing with clear French diction.

Tessa Hartle, Principal coach and accompanist for the young singers was supportive throughout the whole concert.  She never overpowered the singers and was certainly attentive to everything they did.   It was clear that the singers enjoyed working with her and appreciated her support.

Congratulations to all the singers and to the wonderful supportive staff of MOT Studio Artists for a memorable evening.

(c) meche kroop

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