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, June 22, 2019


Directors Marc Verzatt and Brittany Goodwin taking a bow with participants of IVAI

We were completely bowled over last night at the second and final evening of opera duets, trios, and ensembles. In the week we attended we witnessed something akin to a miracle--the transformation of a group of somewhat insecure and unsteady young artists into fully fledged performers. Perhaps all the requisite skills were there just waiting to be brought out. And brought out they were!

Much credit must be given to coaches Joan Dornemann, Jane Steele, Pei-Wen Chen, and Dura Jun and to the teachers on the faculty whom we never met; there is no doubt in our mind that they kept the students busy with constant lessons and coachings which we did not observe. What we did observe were the juicy fruits of their labor, tastefully arranged for our delectation by directors Brittany (Bea) Goodwin and Marc Verzatt who, without sets or costumes, created meaningful onstage interaction.

There were a number of instances in which we learned something new about characters that are customarily portrayed in a "stock" fashion. Let us provide a couple examples. In the card reading scene from Bizet's Carmen, our doomed heroine (the marvelous mezzo-soprano Jihyun Choi) was set on stage right brooding whilst Frasquita (lovely soprano Hanna Lee) and Mercedes (marvelous mezzo Xiaohan Chen) were having a gay time talking about their future fortunes and upcoming romances. This contrast emphasized the tragedy to come.

There's an even more poignant example from the same opera. Country girl Micaela is usually portrayed rather blandly, as an oblivious innocent. Last night, the way soprano Miriam Chaudoir portrayed her, she sensed, by his indifferent embrace, that Don José (Alonzo Jordan Lopez) was not really present for her. He sings of his joy in hearing from his mother and she sings along but you could tell from her facial expression and body language that she was hurting. She wanted him to sing about his joy in seeing her! This subtle difference made Micaela a complete character, not just a plot device.

In Rossini's Semiramide, the deluded title character, portrayed by soprano Melanie Spector, indicated by her posture and the imperious way she held her head that she couldn't even imagine that Arsace would prefer another. We might add here that Ms. Spector's coloratura fireworks were never impaired by the acting but rather served to illuminate Semiramide's character. Furthermore, Keymon Murrah's countertenor was superbly employed and one could read on his face his discomfort around the heroine's expectations. The two voices sounded so perfect together that we cannot imagine Arsace performed in a different fach.

Soprano Julia Katherine Walsh tackled Lucia's "mad scene" with relish and complete dramatic abandon while maintaining fine control over the vocal fireworks. She has resonance to spare in the high-flying tessitura that sent overtones bouncing around the room. Through her eyes we could see all of her frightening hallucinations. What a performance! 

Juliet Morris created an imperious Queen of the Night from Mozart's Die Zauberflöte, one that wielded authority without benefit of extravagant makeup and costuming. It was all done with posture, gesture, and vocalism. Ms. Morris really knew what she was singing about, making every word count.

The final scene not only knocked our socks off but also our shoes! We were completely unfamiliar with Rossini's Otello and are sure it would have been a major member of the current repertory, had not Verdi undertaken to write his Otello. What a treat to hear scenes from two serious Rossini operas in one night! 

Soprano Jaeyeon Kim was incredibly touching as the frightened Desdemona, singing the heavily embellished vocal line with flexibility and the most gorgeous timbre. In a world in which sopranos sound so much alike, it was a special experience for us to hear a unique instrument. As the jealous Otello, tenor Eduardo Belmonte was threatening and scary, without any holding back. The scene gave ample opportunity for him to show off a strong and full middle voice.

From Puccini's audience pleaser La Bohême, we heard "O soave fanciulla" sung by soprano Clara Iranzo and tenor Eduardo Belmonte. Was it the excellent direction that made their romance seem so very real? Or was it the fact that they are a couple? Like Oscar in Ballo in Maschera, we know but won't tell!

A scene from Puccini's La Rondine was charmingly executed with tenor Nicolas Gerst taking the role of the poet Prunier, starting "Il bel sogno di Doretta" with Ms. Irazo's Magda taking over. In attendance were a group of gossiping friends (Mithuna Sivaraman, Nicole Karrs, and Michelle Encarnacion Pozo) and a finely drawn Lisette (the maid) enacted by Angela Candela. She was so compelling in the role that we wanted to see the scene in the café dansant! She is one of those "stage animals" that can lose herself in any one of a number of characters.

We loved the scene from Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia in which Rosina beats Figaro to the punch. He is clever but she is still more clever. "Dunque io son" was given a humorous performance by mezzo-soprano Cloe San Antonio who is blessed with one of those distinctive voices of true mezzo timbre, flexibility in the fioritura, and a charming stage presence. Her chemistry with baritone Robbie Raso as Figaro was pure delight. We think this role suits him to a "T", giving ample opportunity for acting as well as singing.

From Massenet's Manon we enjoyed the scene in which the now-sophisticated heroine is enjoying some gambling with her fancy friends the "party girls", portrayed by Yingjie Zhou, Olesia Verzole, and Wenjie Zhang. They enjoyed being louche and we enjoyed their enjoyment. The harmonies were exquisite and the French was just fine.

More Massenet followed with a scene from his Cendrillon in which Prince Charmant (the ardent mezzo Heather Jones) becomes enraptured by the title character (soprano Lauren Curet) who sang with brightness and clarity. True to Massenet, the harmonies were again exquisite and no one failed their French.

Finally, we saw an appealing scene from Mozart's singspiel Die Entführung aus dem Serail. The two sopranos (Sarah Heilman and Hyune Kwon) and two tenors (Masachika Watanabe and Zachary Sebek) made some gorgeous harmonies together. It pleased us to see Mozart's genius with contrasting vocal lines so well executed.

This astonishing evening was, for us, the capstone of a wonderful ten days, although there will be one more performance--an evening of American song. We would like to point out that the youngest participant was but 18 years old and several of them are still undergraduates whilst others have completed advanced degrees. Obviously, the 50 participants began the program at varying levels of expertise but they all made a giant step forward. After a brief recess, the Institute will take place in Montreal. We wish we could be a "camp follower"!

(c) meche kroop

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