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, January 19, 2019


Aza Sydykov, Vera Danchenko-Stern, Clara Lisle, Alvard Mayilyan, Kathleen Norchi, Caleb Eick, and Matthew Tartza

We first became acquainted with pianist/accompanist/coach Aza Sydykov through his work with the Kyrgyz American Foundation which presented a concert of Kyrgyz music nearly two years ago--a concert we will never forget (the review of which is archived and available through the search bar). We didn't get to hear nearly enough of his pianistic artistry at that time but we made up for it last night when his brilliance at the keyboard dazzled our ears.

Alternating with the extraordinarily gifted pianist/accompanist/coach Vera Danchenko-Stern, the accompaniment to the singers impressed us with its brilliance. The two pianists knew just when to hold back to support each singer, and when to let out all the stops during the interludes.

We were attending a recital at the National Opera Center designed to showcase the achievements of the five young artists who had attended the week-long institute focusing on Russian singing. We wished that we had been available to monitor their progress through the coachings, from start to finish; however there was one instance in which we are able to report on artistic development.

Not long ago we attended a rather disappointing production of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin in which we were impressed by the Tatiana of soprano Carla Lisle. Last night she performed the heroine's "Letter Scene" in full and we were happily able to see a great leap forward in phrasing, diction, and interpretation. When we hear an aria extracted from an opera and performed in concert, we measure success partly by the singer's ability to take us into the opera in our mind's eye.

Last night we were not transported to the unfortunate Mannes production but rather to a more traditional one at the Metropolitan Opera that moved us deeply.  This is a good thing! Ms. Lisle's diction and phrasing were enhanced by the astute employment of dynamic variety and dramatic coloration. Poor Tatiana is in the throes of adolescent turmoil and every nuance was well portrayed.

Listening to the other four singers on the program did not offer the same opportunity for comparison between "before" and "after", but we enjoyed hearing songs both familiar and unfamiliar. The Russian canon of songs is vast and our exposure has been somewhat limited. Perhaps it is understandable that we get more enjoyment from songs we have heard before.

For example, Rachmaninoff's "Spring Waters" always fills us with joy and we liked the performance by soprano Kathleen Norchi who also introduced us to "Uzh ty, niva moya, nivushka" with its captivating analogy, comparing scattered thoughts with grains of wheat.

Mezzo-soprano Alvard Mayilyan evinced very different personalities in Polina's romance from Tchaikovsky's Pique Dame and Olga's aria from his Eugene Onegin. The former was haunting and the latter was light-hearted and teasing.

We liked baritone Caleb Eick best in Aleko's Cavatina from the Rachmaninoff opera, in which he portrayed the pain of romantic betrayal by varying vocal colors and dynamics to suit the character's complex feelings.

Tenor Matthew Tartza introduced us to a charming songs by Rimsky-Korsakov, the gentle Levko's aria from May Night and  Tchaikovsky's "Vesna: Travka Zeleneyer" from Songs for Children.  Perhaps it was ill advised to put Mario's pre-death aria "E lucevan le stelle" from Puccini's Tosca on the program. We have heard it so often sung by famous tenors that the risk of comparison worked against the singer.

Again, we wish to emphasize how superlative was the pianism. Russian vocal music captivated us a bit later than Italian and German and isn't always performed with such subtlety. We appreciate being introduced to the musical heritage of Russia and are glad that the Kyrgyz American Foundation has sponsored the Eurasia Festival, thereby promoting Eurasian culture.

There will be one more concert in the Festival, Sunday evening at 7:30, also at the National Opera Center.

(c) meche kroop

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