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, January 27, 2019

SongStudio with RENEE FLEMING

Renée Fleming and Emerging Artists

Those of us who remember Marilyn Horne's "The Song Continues" are glad that the annual week of master classes and recitals have been continued by star soprano Renée Fleming.  The institute is now called "SongStudio" and has a mission to "renew and refresh the presentation and experience of the vocal recital...exploring innovative approaches to both classic and current song repertoire". We hope they will continue to attract new audiences "to engage with the art form".

Let it be said that the quality of the participants was extremely high. Both singers and pianists were well chosen. A few days ago we attended Ms. Fleming's master class and had a closer look at four of the participants, giving us a more well-rounded picture of their gifts. Some of the participants are known to us through their advanced studies at Juilliard, somewhat coloring our view of their performances last night at the Weill Music Room of the Resnick Education Wing of Carnegie Hall.

Also coloring our view is our distinct preference for music of the Romantic period and our distaste for contemporary song sung in English. Please, dear reader, accept this as our taste, not judgment of the artistry of those singers who chose works that we didn't care for.

Tenor James Ley sang two Schubert lied that touched us deeply--exactly what we want from a song recital. In the Fleming master class he performed Schubert's "Die Musensohn" in a manner that we felt required more gesture and which Ms. Fleming felt needed more energy. There were no such problems last night with "Ständchen". Mr. Ley's tender tone expanded magnificently at the top and he ended the song with the image of a disappointed lover whose serenade went unrequited.  In "Nacht und Träume" he wove a spell by caressing each word. Collaborative pianist Seoyon MacDonald reinforced his interpretation.

Another singer who captivated us was bass-baritone Enrico Lagasca. In Ms. Fleming's master class, he put us into an altered state with Gustav Mahler's "Urlicht" which many of you will know from the 4th movement of Mahler's Second Symphony. Although we are not of a spiritual bent, we got "the feels" from the simple spare delivery and Michael Hey's collaborative piano.

Last night Mr. Lagasca sang a song in Tagalog from his native Phillipines--"Sino ang Baliw" by Elizabeth Barcelona and Eudenice Palaruan. It was haunting and grew in power. Because of a projector dysfunction, he sang it twice so we had double the pleasure. We loved it without the titles and photographs, just for the pleasure of the sound.

French soprano Axelle Fanyo was also heard in the Fleming master class, accompanied by Adriano Stampanato who ripples arpeggi with consummate skill. We enjoyed her Brahms but thought last night's performance of Poulenc's "La Dame de Monte-Carlo" gave her more opportunity to act with her entire body, telling the tale like the master story-teller the text requires.

Soprano Coraine Tate is remembered from the master class for incorporating some work on breathing offered by Ms. Fleming. Something extremely useful was the image of "breathing into the armpits" which truly made a difference. We were not crazy about the Jake Heggie song she sang then, nor the one she sang last night--both settings of texts by Emily Dickinson which, in our opinion, never asked to be set to music. We did enjoy the way she engaged the audience with a story of her family, which led to a performance of Richard Strauss' "Einerlei" in fine German. We liked Peyson Moss' light touch on the piano.

Icelandic soprano Álfheidur Erla Gudmundsdóttir teamed up with pianist Kunal Lahiry in an act of "piano abuse" that the audience seemed to love.  It was George Crumb's "The Night in Silence Under Many a Star" from Apparitions. We thought of it as what is presently called "performance art"; we admit that the singer is beautiful and graceful draped around and encircling the piano but the strange sounds made by plucking the strings did not please our ears.

She began the program with Schubert's "Die junge Nonne", a song we love. The novitiate moves from stormy feelings, well evoked in the piano, to feelings of spiritual peace. For Mendelssohn's "Hexenlied", she loosened her hair to convey the wildness of the text. She is definitely on the right dramatic track but we would like to hear it more in the vocal coloration.

The wonderful Schumann song "Die Soldatenbraut" was performed by Ukrainian mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Chayka-Rubinstein and Ana Mazaeva. We liked the singer's fine vibrato and her gestures, which emphasized the light-hearted tone. In Debussy's "Colloque sentimental" from Fêtes Galantes, we longed to hear more contrast between the voices of the two lovers.

Our passion for song in Spanish was gratified many times over by tenor Jose Simerilla Romero and pianist Andrew King who performed Ernesto Lecuona's "Siempre en mi corazón" sung with romantic tone and gorgeous pianissimi. Even better was Obradors' "Del cabello más sutil" in which he caressed every word. Mr. King's rippling arpeggi added to the effect and we were transported.

Mezzo-soprano Kayleigh Decker and pianist Madeline Slettedahl captured the ironic humor of Poulenc's "Il vole". This is a difficult song to understand because of all the wordplay! There was some lovely dynamic variety in Jean Sibelius' "Var det en dröm" and we enjoyed Ms. Slettedahl's feathery touch on the piano.

Bass William Guabo Su, whom we have heard and enjoyed so many times, chose two songs in English which we did not care for; Kurt Weill's "Oh captain, my captain" and Samuel Barber's "I hear an army" just did not move us at all. But that didn't prevent us from enjoying the gorgeous texture of his instrument and the artistry of his phrasing. Richard Yu Fu's piano was superb.

Similarly, the choices of Magdalena Kuźma did not thrill us. She sang three selections from Tom Cipullo's How to Get Heat Without Fire. Sitting so far on the side, we did not understand the words and had to Google the text when we returned home. The final song "The Pocketbook" was humorous  but the other two were just obscure. Again, we didn't think the text was meant to be set to music.  Oh, well.  We were hoping to have another opportunity to hear Ms. Kuźma and pianist William Woodard, and we sort of did.

We enjoyed the encore which was performed by Ms. Kuźma, Ms. Decker, and Ms. Fanyo.  English sounds a lot better in popular and musical theater pieces.
"Sing for your Supper" was written as a trio for the 1938 musical The Boys from Syracuse  by Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers. We know it well from several hearings at Steven Blier's New York Festival of Song, often done as a solo by the inimitable Miles Mykkanen. It was great to hear it as written, by three lovely ladies in gorgeous harmony.

(c) meche kroop

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