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, September 23, 2018


Pablo Zinger, Linda Collazo, Maria Brea, and Shaina Martinez

At a time when our country has become divided over so many issues, it is especially valuable spending time on Planet Opera where the population unites to celebrate beauty, talent, and artistry.

Last night we celebrated Latin American vocal music with Voces Unidas: Por un mundo en armonía, a worthy organization founded by Maria Brea, Linda Collazo, and Cynthia López Pérez, that provides the community with charitable events and includes artists from several different Latin American countries. Voces Unidas donated 75% of the proceeds to Raíces, a non-profit organization that provides legal services for families that are separated.

The superb vocal artistry we heard included songs both serious and "popular" (whatever that means); the program was punctuated by brief examples from the singers outlining how their families came to the United States, often impoverished, and how they thrived here, producing children who have achieved success and recognition in many fields, not just the field of music.

Long before this concert we had felt nothing but anger towards those political forces that would keep refugee families from entering and would separate children from their parents. Singers speculated about what a loss there would have been if those draconian measures had been applied to their own families. Our nation was different then and we hope that we will return to the former welcoming condition as soon as we can effect a political change.

As far as the singers and the songs, we have nothing but a glowing report  to offer.  Every song was so affecting that we are unable to choose our favorites. The one quality that we observed in every singer was an intense dedication to the music, without extraneous or artificial effects. There was a way of honoring the composer and the lyricist that had us feeling the same intensity that the singer appeared to be feeling.

María Brea, who comes  from the slums of Venezuela, used her charming personality to bring to life the lyrics of "Me llaman la primorosa" from the zarzuela El barbero de Sevilla by Gerónimo Jiménez. There was a subtle change of mood in the central section announced by the piano, which was in the good hands (so to speak) of Pablo Zinger. We heard some lovely descending scale passages and a lengthy vocalise when words were insufficient to portray the feelings.

The popular "Bésame mucho" by Consuelo Velázquez required the blending of a bit of chest voice without any loss of classical technique and was given a jazzy piano accompaniment.

Ms. Brea also sang a duet with Ms. Collazo, "Niñas que a vender flores"  that delighted us with its delicious harmonies. The composer, Francisco Asenjo Barbieri, wrote this zarzuela, Los Diamantes de la corona in the 19th c., our favorite period.

We also got to hear Ms. Collazo sing "Nana", the beautiful lullaby written by Manuel de Falla as part of Siete Canciones Populares Españolas, and what a lovely tender reading she gave it!  We experienced a completely different side of her artistry as she performed "Tango de la Menegilda" from Federico Chueca and Joaquín Valverde Senior's La gran via, in which she portrayed a female thief with a winning personality.

We were somewhat less than enthusiastic about the performance of the "Habanera" from Bizet's Carmen. The problem was not with the singing but rather with the piano arrangement provided by Mr. Zinger, "in the style of Astor Piazzola". This would have been very entertaining on its own, as would have been Ms. Collazo's singing; the problem was the disjunction between the piano and the voice; there was no support for the vocal line.  We might call this an interesting experiment that failed.

Shaina Martinez is another singer of great gifts. From a Peruvian background, she offered a song in Quechua, a language spoken by her abuela. Peruvian composer Theodoro Valcárcel wrote "Allqamari kanki" in the early 20th c. and the words and music fell lightly on the ear.

On the more familiar end of the spectrum, she sang Augustín Lara's  "Granada" with arresting expressiveness and a beautifully expanding upper register. She must adore this song because it seemed to come right from the heart.  The same intensity was applied to  "Hija del amor" from the zarzuela Cecilia Valdés, by the 20th c. Cuban composer Gonzalo Roig.

Two excellent singers from the Boston Conservatory did not make the curtain call because they had to get back to Boston. But the two made a fine impression with their performances.   

Cynthia López Pérez performed "Somewhere" from Bernstein's West Side Story.  Informed by the rest of the program, this song acquired a new significance as we  thought about finding a place for refugees.  Significantly, this artist's family comes from  the  Texas/Mexican border.  Down with walls!

Her performance of  "De mi amor" from Felipe Villanueva's  Keofar  revealed  a beautifully free and full upper register.

We were astonished to learn that the terrific tenor on  the  program,  Daniel Lugo, is only 20 years old!    Short of years but tall of talent , he dazzled our ears  with the oft performed "No puede ser"  from Pablo  Sorozábal's La taberna del puerto.  He further delighted us with the popular Mexican song  "Estrellita" by Manuel Ponce.  It is so exciting to hear a singer of such promise at a very early stage of his career.  

All of the singers we heard are under 30!   Very impressive indeed!  The program ended with María  Grever's "Júrame", sung by Ms. Brea, Ms. Collazo, and Ms. Martinez in perfect harmony. And that's what it's all about!

We hope there will be more recitals to come!

© meche kroop

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