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.

Friday, June 14, 2019


Dimitri Dover, Joseph Lim, Leah Hawkins, and Mario Bahg at Jackie Robinson Park Bandshell

Lucky us!  Thor held his thunder until after the Metropolitan Opera recital and Tlaloc kept the threatened rain in abeyance. The crowd at the bandshell in Jackie Robinson Park in Harlem was sadly sparse but nonetheless wildly enthusiastic, sensing that the artists were giving their all for the occasion. If what we write is tempting to you, there will be several more opportunities to hear the same program in the other four boroughs. It would be a shame to miss it.

We know pianist Dimitri Dover since his student days at Juilliard and have always admired his artistry at the piano. Last night he moved readily from Mozart to Bernstein and everything in between. Not only did he play magnificently but he fulfilled the role of narrator, explaining to the audience what each aria was about and its place in the opera. Not everyone is an experienced opera goer and this knowledge went a long way toward enhancing audience appreciation.

We were first introduced to the astonishing talent of soprano Leah Hawkins by our dear friend, pianist/coach/conductor Lachlan Glen who knows a good voice when he hears it. We heard Ms. Hawkins sing in French and was immediately won over. Last night we heard her sing in Italian and English and continue to be impressed.

Ms. Hawkins is one of those big beautiful gals with big beautiful voices. We were immediately drawn in by "Io son l'umile ancella" from Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur. Puccini held no terrors for this gifted lady as she sailed through Liu's "Signore Ascolta" from Puccini's Turandot. We couldn't help thinking that we wanted to hear her sing the title role and we probably will some day.

From Verdi's Otello we heard Desdemona's final act prayer which was intensely moving. Even better was Clara's big aria "Summertime" from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, her encore piece in which she let out all the stops. Some of the notes were "bent" in true jazzy style and there was a delicious portamento. We had goose bumps.

We think it's important for a singer to choose her roles carefully and we didn't think that Maria from Bernstein's West Side Story was the right role for Ms. Hawkin's powerful voice; she is anything but an ingenue!

Joseph Lim is a fine baritone who was brought to our attention five years ago at one of Marilyn Horne's Spotlight Recitals during her birthday week at Carnegie Hall. We recall being quite impressed and was thrilled to catch him again at the Santa Fe Opera as a powerful Enrico in Lucia di Lammermoor. We lost track of him over the past few years but his star is on the rise and we were so happy to hear him again.

We recall that we were a bit nit-picky about his German and are glad to report that it is vastly improved. One of our favorite German arias is Wolfram's "O du, mein holder Abendstern" from Wagner's Tannhäuser. Hearing this aria changed the life of the peasant-turned-linguistic professor in the film Padre, Padrone by the Taviani brothers. It moved us greatly long ago when we saw the film and it probably stimulated our interest in opera! 

We loved the way Mr. Lim sang it. Having heard a lovely tenorial quality in his upper register in Guglielmo's "Rivolgete a lui lo sguardo" from Mozart's Cosi fan tutte, we didn't expect him to do so well with the low tessitura of the Wagner. Accompanist Dimitri Dover played some gorgeously modulated arpeggi that amplified the spiritual mood.

In "Ya vas lyublyu" from Tchaikovsky's Queen of Spades, he sang the Russian with as much legato as we would want, making beautiful phrases in spite of the harsh Russian consonants.

Every singer loves a good drinking song and he did a fine job with Hamlet's "O vin, dissipe la tristesse" from the Tomas opera. The French was excellent and we felt Hamlet's underlying distress. In "Some Enchanted Evening", from Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific, the floated high note at the end added to the romantic feeling.

Tenor Mario Bahg is new to us and we grew to appreciate his artistry more and more as the evening wore on. He has a pleasing warm tone and a lovely legato technique. We enjoyed his performance of "Angelo casto e bel" from Il Duca d'Alba, attributed to Donizetti. We confided in Maestro Ken Noda that it sounded nothing like Donizetti and he confirmed that Donizetti didn't compose it!  Donizetti abandoned the opera and it was finished by his pupil Matteo Salvi after his death. Indeed that is so but it is a lovely tenor piece nonetheless.

His delivery of Faust's serenade "Salut! demeure chaste et pure" was completely convincing and splendidly romantic.  The same lovely legato was notable in everything he sang. As an encore piece, he gave a passionate rendition of "Dein ist mein ganzes Herz" in gorgeous German.

Of course, we always have a quibble and we would like to see Mr. Bahg sharpen his fioritura. The ascending and descending scales in "Il mio tesoro" from Mozart's Don Giovanni were beautifully rendered but we wanted more clarity in the embellishments. He has a real feel for Mozart and we loved his rendition of Ferrando's aria "Un aura amorosa" from Cosi fan tutte.

The two gentlemen joined forces for "Au fond du temple saint" from Bizet's Les Pêcheurs de Perles and created some fortuitous harmonies. They made much of the contrast between the yearning first and final sections and the stormy central section.

That was our favorite duet since we didn't care too much for the English version of the waltz from Lehar's The Merry Widow nor did we experience the requisite chemistry in "Tonight" from Bernstein's West Side Story which we enjoyed so thoroughly the previous night at the Brooklyn concert. Again, it all comes down to choices. It is not enough for a work to fit into the program. It has to fit the voice and personality of the singer.

(c) meche kroop

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