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, December 10, 2018


Michael Fennelly, Emma Dogliani, Andrew Egbuchiem, Jenny Schuler, Dilara Unsal, Megan Cullen, Michael McAvoy, Michelle Pretto, Emma Lavandier, Lars Fosser

Lyra New York's International Vocal Competition was held yesterday at the National Opera Center and we were present to hear the finalists, as well as a bonus--the finalists in the Mozart Vocal Competition. There was a distinguished panel of judges and the wonderful accompanist Michael Fennelly who manages to be just about everywhere.

The competition ran smoothly and everyone performed well; the judges must have had a difficult time choosing the winners when the differences in talent were so slim. As one might expect, we didn't always agree with the judges but that is to be expected.  What experienced adjudicators look for is not always the same as what an audience member reacts to.

What we will relate is from the viewpoint of an audience member and, as is customary for us, will not reveal which singer achieved what placement. 

In the Mozart competition, all three singers (Megan Cullen, Jenny Schuler, and Carla Vargas) sang the same aria from Mozart's Idomeneo. This will never be our favorite Mozart opera but it was interesting to hear how each singer handled the "laughing" part. We also liked the differentiation between the lyrical section and the cabaletta, with its fiery fioritura.

The finals which followed offered three categories--art song, oratorio, and operatic arie. (Guess which your reviewer enjoyed most!)  

In the art song category, we especially enjoyed bass-baritone Wooju Kim's expressive tonal quality which he employed well in an expansive song by Tchaikovsky which we cannot name and the lovely "Einsamkeit" by Brahms. We thought his performance might be elevated to a higher level if he relaxed his physical gestures to a more natural manner that would match the expressivity of his voice.

Emma Dogliani sang Richard Strauss' "Zueignung" and Bachelet's "Chère nuit"

In the oratorio section we heard counter-tenor Andrew Egbuchiem and baritone Michael McAvoy, both of whom sounded just fine although, to be honest, oratorio "ain't our thang". We will say that Mr. McAvoy delivered "Revenge" from Händel's Alexander's Feast as if it were an operatic aria, singing with drama, spirit and flexibility.

In the operatic division we were pleased to hear a promising Wagnerian singer--Jenny Schuler, who sang "Du bist der Lenz" from Wagner's Die Walküre. This suited her large soprano far better than the earlier Mozart.

Another highlight was soprano Dilara Unsal's performance of "O patria mia" from Verdi's Aida.  This is another large voice with a great deal of promise. There was plenty of strength at the lower register that made us speculate that she might have once been a mezzo-soprano. Yet, her top notes rang with soprano resonance. There were a couple vowels in her Italian that needed to be corrected but that's a minor quibble.

She also sang an aria from Tchaikovsky's Pique Dame with passion and conviction. Since we don't speak Russian, we cannot comment on her pronunciation but it sounded just fine.

Bass-baritone Lars Fosser, who neglected to introduce himself, gave a chilling interpretation of Iago's  "Credo" from Verdi's Otello. There was plenty of menace in the coloration which seemed to carry over into Don Giovanni's invitation to the party in which he hopes to seduce Zerlina. We would have preferred a bit more variety. Don Giovanni needs to be more seductive and charming!

We enjoyed Michelle Pretto's generous soprano which she put to good use in an aria from Verdi's Ernani. We were happy to hear another aria, one from Korngold's Die tote Stadt which she sang in fine German. 

There was only one mezzo present.  Emma Lavandier performed "Una voce poco fa" from Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia and "Gardez bien", Stefano's aria from Gounod's Romeo et Juliette.

We refer you to the website www.lyranewyork.com for information on the singers and the competition. The main distinguishing feature of this competition is, however, something we would like to share. There are no age limits! We can think of so many issues that might have delayed or interrupted a singer's career and it is a wonderful benefit to give everyone an equal opportunity.

In closing, we would like to paraphrase the advice we heard from the legendary centenarian Maestro Antonio Coppola in a master class he gave for Martina Arroyo's Prelude to Performance.  Come out onstage with confidence, say your name loudly and clearly.  Announce your selection loudly and clearly.  Although most of yesterday's singers gave their names, they mumbled the names of their selections. Please, singers, learn to project your spoken voice as well as your singing voice!

(c) meche kroop

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