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.

Saturday, December 22, 2018


The title of "Festival" may sometimes be overused, implying an experience that is out of the ordinary. Last night at Weill Recital Hall, what we experienced was truly extraordinary. In observance of what would have been the 95th birthday of the legendary soprano Maria Callas, we were introduced to several world-class sopranos, any one of which could be the next Callas. As icing on the cake, we got to hear the two top prize winners of the Talents of the World 2018 competition. Who could ask for anything more!

The evening of arias began with a riveting performance of Lucia's Act I aria from Donizetti's masterpiece Lucia di Lammermoor by the astonishingly versatile Ukrainian coloratura soprano Ruslana Koval. "Regnava il silencio" depicts the fragile heroine relating what amounts to a ghost story to her companion. The artistry exhibited by Ms. Koval was in allowing us to see Lucia's unbalanced nature, thus establishing the groundwork for her later decompensation.

We sat in our seat, eyes wide, seeing the ghost through her eyes. Ms. Koval must have had dance training because her use of bodily gesture perfectly mirrored the text, as did her vocal coloration. The fioritura was perfectly rendered as well. Need we mention that her instrument is a gorgeous one which reflects her beauty.  One does not have to be gorgeous to be a good singer but it certainly doesn't hurt.

We appreciated her versatility when she enacted the innocent Gilda singing "Caro nome" from Verdi's Rigoletto; her portrayal of the Queen of the Night from Mozart's Die Zauberflöte had an entirely different coloration--fiery, imperious, but well modulated dynamically; the fioritura evinced pinpoint accuracy.

Her Violetta embodied all of the ambivalence of the character weighing her frenetic party life against the possibility of romance in Act I of Verdi's La Traviata. For visual interest, there were several costume changes to underscore the effect. This is a soprano to watch!

Georgian soprano Tamar Iveri has a very different instrument with a completely different set of gifts. Her voice is a spinto one with a lot of weight that stood up well to the demands made on a Verdi soprano. Her Desdemona was warm and loving toward Otello in the romantic duet "Gia nella notte densa" with Armenian tenor Arsen Soghomonya struggling with a head and chest cold.

What a change she exhibited as she portrayed the terrified Amelia in "Ma dall'arido stelo divulsa" from Ballo in Maschera. Her vocalism and acting were so intense that we could feel her terror. "Udiste? Come Albeggi" from Il Trovatore required even more of her--maintaining a beautiful tone whilst expressing a series of emotions toward the Conte di Luna. Leonora is in a rage but also must beg for pity from this vengeful rejected lover, here performed by the mellow toned baritone David Gvinianidze, President and Founder of Talents of the World.

With great versatility she conveyed the gentle character of Adriana in "Io son l'humile ancella" from Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur and also the pathos and desperation of Manon in "Sola, Perduta, Abbandonata" from Puccini's Manon Lescaut. This is another soprano to relish, one with both power and subtlety.  She too changed costumes a couple times and if we weren't writing about the music, we would be describing the gorgeous gowns!

Talents of the World's Director Olga Lisovskaya herself has a lovely voice and delighted us with some dazzling coloratura in Juliette's waltz "Ah, je veux vivre" from the opera by Gounod. This is a pleasing sound with lovely phrasing and some impressive expansion at the top of the register. She also served as hostess for the evening, introducing the singers.

We just wrote about Anna Cley's effective master class a few days ago and were delighted to have an opportunity to hear her perform. The fair and slender Ms. Cley looks nothing like the gypsy Carmen so her performance of the "Habanera" succeeded brilliantly on the basis of vocalism alone and evoked huge applause. This is a dusky voice with the texture of a true mezzo, not just the voice of someone with low notes. 

She was similarly outstanding in the duet "Belle nuit" from Offenbach's  Les Contes d'Hoffmann with Shaina Martinez taking the soprano part. Their voices harmonized beautifully. Ms. Martinez won the First Prize in the Talents of the World 2018 International Competition. We have written several times about Ms. Martinez since her student days at Manhattan School of Music.

She gave a highly persuasive delivery of "Tu che di gel sei cinta" from Puccini's Turandot; she certainly could have melted anyone's cold heart!  She has beautiful tone and phrasing. We enjoyed her duet with Second Prize Winner Sarah Joyce Cooper in "Sull'aria" from Mozart's Nozze di Figaro.

Ms. Cooper also had a solo--"Depuis le jour" from Charpentier's Louise which showed off her sweet tone and fine French.

The program closed with three unusual ensembles.  Ms. Koval, Ms. Lisovskaya and Ms. Martinez sang the charming chanson "Les filles de Cadix" by Leo Delibes, a song loved by Ms. Callas.

Lauretta's aria "Oh mio babbino caro" from Puccini's Gianni Schicchi was performed by Ms. Koval, Ms. Iveri, and Ms. Martinez.

"Quando m'en vo" from Puccini's La Bohème was given a funny turn when Ms. Koval, Ms. Iveri, and Ms. Lisovskaya took turns upstaging one another. It was a great way to close this exciting evening, one which seemed to just fly by.

Pianist for the evening was the incredibly talented Alexandra Naumenko whom we remember well from her days with the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program. How satisfying it is to witness the artistic success of people we admire.

There is more to come from Talents of the World. Tonight there will be a testosterone fueled evening of tenors. And Sunday night will be a grand celebration with opera, operetta, and Christmas music.  This certainly does qualify as a festival!

(c) meche kroop

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