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, December 23, 2018


John Irvin, Raul Melo, WooYoung Yoon, Tianchi Zhang, Omar Najmi, Victoria Ulanovskaya, Alexandra Naumenko, Olga Lisovskaya, and David Gvinianidze

We are about to celebrate a Southern Italian custom on Christmas Eve--the Feast of Seven Fishes--at the home of some dear friends.  We are not sure whether the idea is to have seven different courses of fish or to eat seven different species of fish. In actuality, in prior years we enjoyed un'abbondanza beyond seven of everything.

Such was the case last night with un'abbondanza of artistry from five terrific tenors and two prodigious pianists, augmented by the talents of baritone David Gvinianidze, Founder of Talents of the World, and Director of same, soprano Olga Lisovskaya. The evening celebrated the 135th anniversary of Enrico Caruso.

Whilst enjoying entertainment, we are also learning, always learning, always forming new opinions.  Our take home from last night is that all singers should become aware of their own strengths and play to them. There is nothing wrong with pushing oneself in new directions--in a voice lesson or in a coaching.  But when one steps onstage, it is best to confine oneself to the type of material that suits one's unique gifts.

Two young tenors did just that last night.  WooYoung Joon has been reviewed by us many times; his strength lies in his stage presence.  He is what is called "a stage animal" and it is no wonder that he consistently wins Audience Favorite awards. (He also won the Grand Prix of this festival's competition). He clearly has a character in mind before he comes onstage and his connection with the character results in an instant and profound connection with the audience.

His Tonio from Donizetti's Fille du Regiment begins with "Ah, mes amis" and we instantly felt he was addressing us in the audience as his friends. This ability to communicate supersedes technique! Of course, we also love his healthy young instrument with its ringing tone.

Another impressive artist, new to us and one of the prize winners, is Tianchi Zhang who performed "Salut! Demeure chaste et pure" from Gounod's Faust. He too understood his character and delivered the aria in fine French with ardent intent and some beautifully floated high notes. We particularly admired his pianissimo, and the apparent ease of sound production.

Yet another prize winner, Omar Najmi, performed "Questa o quello" from Verdi's Rigoletto and and an aria unfamiliar to us--"La Speranza piú soave" from Rossini's Semiramide. In neither case did we feel that the aria suited his voice. There was something going on with the texture of his instrument that we couldn't quite put our finger on and occasional problems with intonation. In any case, his is not a voice suited to bel canto at this point in time; we found the fioritura muddy. We need to hear Mr. Najmi again, singing something different.

John Irvin sounded marvelous as Lensky in "Kuda, kuda vy udalilis" from Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, beautifully limning the character of the anguished young poet searching his soul on the brink of an unnecessary death.  The pianissimo moments particularly drew us in. We liked him much more than in Romeo's aria "Ah! Lève-toi soleil" from Gounod's Roméo et Juliette. The pianissimo passages were fine but he tends to push during the fortissimo passages.  High does not need to be loud!

Even famous tenors have better affinities for different types of music. Metropolitan Opera star Raul Melo can sing Neapolitan songs with all the requisite garlic and he did just that last night; "Core 'ngrato" was sung with affecting heartbreak. The same intensity worked magnificently in "Vesti la giubba" from Leoncavallo's Pagliacci in which he successfully convinced us of Canio's anguish. 

Mr. Melo's strong middle register lent gravity to "Ma se m'èforza perderti...Si, riverderti, Amelia" from Verdi's Un ballo in maschera; the aria fit his voice perfectly.  Not so "Una furtiva lagrima" from Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore. Mr. Melo is not suited to Nemorino, not vocally and not dramatically.

Although the program was dedicated to Enrico Caruso, there seemed to be a heavy emphasis on the memory of The Three Tenors concerts which were a huge success and brought many new audience members to opera.  For our taste, there was too much group singing and we are going to tell you why.

Friday night, all the sopranos were equally gifted and equivalently versatile. But last night, the tenors were differentially gifted and not equivalently versatile, so having several of them singing various verses of the same aria served to highlight the tenor whose voice and demeanor best suited the aria, at the expense of the others. A case in point was "La donna è mobile", shared by Mr. Yoon who was flexible in the fioritura, Mr. Zhang who sounded fine, and Mr. Najmi who fell off pitch.

In "Nessun dorma" from Puccini's Turandot, Mr. Melo sounded fine, Mr. Yoon just about made the challenges of the low notes, and Mr. Irvin only succeeded in the midrange.

Still, we were happy to hear so many Neapolitan favorites at the end of the program, although it was disconcerting to see Mr. Irvin alone "on the book".  The evening ended with everyone sharing Denza's "Funiculi, funiculà", an audience favorite.

The evening would not have been complete without Mr. Gvinianidze's splendid baritone filling out Vincenzo DiChiara's "La Spagnola".  What a treat!

Pianistic artistry was shared by the lovely Alexandra Naumenko and Olga Ulanovskaya, who treated us to a piano medley of Italian melodies.

Tomorrow's Christmas Ball will bring in many voices and many types of music; it will be held in Zankel Hall at 7:00 PM.  Do not miss!

(c) meche kroop

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