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, June 8, 2018


Fanyong Du, Anna Viemeister, Ricardo Rivera, Richard Owen, Megan Nielsen, Riad Ymeri, and Andrew Cummings in Camerata New York Gala

How well we remember last year's star-studded Camerata New York Gala! This year's version was equally thrilling. The theme was "The Triumph of Music" and the same successful formula that packed St. Jean Baptiste Church last year was again put into play. Favorite arias and duets from well known operas were performed by a cast of international opera stars; each piece was introduced by Maestro Richard Owen who gave the audience just a brief synopsis.

Once again, we had the notion that the audience was partly opera devotés and partly newcomers attracted by the stellar cast, the popularity of the pieces, and a modest ticket price--less than one would pay for a balcony seat at the Met. There were no titles and we didn't see many people reading the translations.  We got the impression that people were truly listening and feeling entertained.  And that's what opera is all about, isn't it?

Readers will recall how much we love duets and the program opened with a solo performed by two tenors!  After the wonderful Camerata New York Orchestra treated us to the Easter Morning Prelude to Pietro Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana, not neglecting the underlying menace in this familiar melody, the "Siciliana" was sung by Fanyong Du and Riad Ymeri, both sounding tenorrific. Pardon our neologism!

Mr. Du appeared again with baritone Ricardo Rivera in the Act IV duet from Puccini's La Bohème in which the two Bohemians chat about their lost loves with seeming carefree nonchalance. Puccini's music gives the lie to their jolly chatter. Mr. Du's sweet tenor balanced beautifully with Mr. Rivera's substantial baritonal colors.

These two singers make a fine pair, as manifested in their "Au fond du temple saint" from Bizet's Pêcheur de Perles, in which their love/lust for the temple priestess Leïla threatens their friendship. By the end of the duet, they are affirming their amity.  But we know better that one of them is going to break that vow of friendship!

Yet another sensational duet was the final scene from Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin in which Tatiana, still in love with Onegin, dismisses him partly out of duty to her husband Prince Gremin, and partly out of suspicion that Onegin is only interested in her because she has a high position in society. The lovely soprano Megan Nielson made a fine ambivalent Tatiana and baritone Andrew Cummings excelled as the importuning Onegin who just won't take "nyet" for an answer.

The final duet on the program was the Act I finale of Puccini's Madama Butterfly in which Butterfly was performed by Ms.  Nielson with Mr. Ymeri as Pinkerton. Mr. Ymeri's voice is so sweet we could scarcely believe that he is such a heel who will abandon this Butterfly with whom he is so taken. Their two voices soared as they invoked nature and he distracted her from the rejection she suffered at the hands of her family. It was a lovely way to end this very special evening.

But we are not ending our review here because we have yet to mention the marvelous arias we heard. Mr. Ymeri got a huge round of bravos for his portrayal of the troubled Riccardo, Governor of Boston, in Verdi's Ballo in Maschera. He must send away his aide Renato because of his love for Amelia, Renato's wife. Mr. Ymeri gave this aria "Forse la solia" an emotional reading without any hint of tightness.

Renato's rage, as he believes Amelia to have been unfaithful, permeated Mr. Cummings' affecting performance of "Eri tu".

Mezzo-soprano Anna Viemeister did her best with Ulrica's aria "Re dell'abisso" but did not always penetrate the dense orchestration with the very low-lying tessitura. 
We enjoyed her much more in "Senta's Ballade" from Wagner's Der Fliegende Holländer, which is a soprano role.  Go figure! But she had the power and the top notes and the touch of madness needed to show us that Senta was a bit off-kilter. It was a splendid performance with the intervals of descending fourths particularly affecting.

We heard two popular arias from Gounod's Faust. Mr. Rivera's performance of Valentin's "Avant de quitter ces lieux" was particularly well handled with the prayerful part colored with tenderness and the patriotic part with resolve. Mr. Du did equally well with Faust's serenade of Marguerite "Salut! Demeure chaste et pure" which was filled with romantic longing, fine French phrasing, and a lovely messa di voce. 

Although opera was the major focus of the evening, the Camerata New York Orchestra was given their opportunity to shine, not only in the Easter morning prelude to Cavalleria Rusticana, but also in the "Polonaise" from Eugene Onegin. The lively ballet from Faust had a lovely lyrical central section. Similarly, the Prelude to the Madama Butterfly duet was filled with tenderness. Maestro Owen has wonderful command of his orchestral forces.

We found the harp accompaniment (Hannah Murphy) to the Mascagni particularly lovely and also heard a lovely flute solo in the Verdi.

The only downside to the evening was the overly resonant acoustics of the gorgeous St. Jean Baptiste church. This tended to smear the sound, but what can we do? Placing the orchestra at audience level with the singers behind is not a great solution but there seems to be no alternative. There are no suitable midsize theaters with an orchestra pit in Manhattan, although there are dozens of small opera companies that need one. To coin a phrase..."If you build it, they will come".

Let us call the evening "The Triumph of Music Over Acoustics"!

(c) meche kroop

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