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, June 16, 2019


The excellent artists of the International Vocal Arts Institute 
onstage at Mannes College of Music

It has become a yearly event that we look forward to every June--Joan Dornemann's International Vocal Arts Institute in residence for ten days at Mannes College of Music. Last night we wrote about Diana Soviero's brilliant master class and tonight we attended a concert of arias performed by the students. It was particularly interesting to hear singers we heard last night to evaluate how well they incorporated  what they learned. For some, it was too soon to telp but one soprano stood out.

Melanie Spector was last on the program last night but the first to come to mind since she took what she learned about breathing and let the sound fly. She performed Norina's scene from Donizetti's Don Pasquale with a voice twice the size of what we heard at the master class. Furthermore, she demonstrated an understanding of the text and a lot of personality. The ascending and descending scales were beautifully rendered, as was the trill.

This opera is full of humor and charm and we enjoyed baritone Gabriel Garcia's Dr. Malatesta as he tries to sell Don Pasquale on his so-called sister, the aforementioned Norina. His baritone has a nice texture and pleasing tone.

Donizetti was quite popular in this concert. We were thrilled hearing mezzo-soprano Jihyun Choi who performed "O mio Fernando" from La Favorita. Her intense involvement in the role pulled us right in. There was a lovely contrast between the legato of the cantabile and the animated cabaletto.

From the master's L'Elisir d'Amore, tenor Eduardo Belmonte performed "Una furtiva lagrima" with sincerity of feeling and generosity of spirit. He has a graceful crescendo which opens up his voice beautifully.

From the same opera, tenor Zachary Sebek lent his sweet tone to Nemorino's other aria "Quanto è bella". When he lets go of the piano and steps forward toward the audience he comes across much better.

Donizetti also set operas in French and Fille du Regiment is a favorite. Tenor Nicolas Gerst bravely tackled "Ah! Mes amis...pour mon âme" with some fine French and a lovely descending portamento at the end.

We do believe French is more difficult to sing than Italian but all of the students excelled. Soprano Hyune Kwon performed "Je suis Titania" from Ambroise Thomas' Mignon, an opera we have never seen. Her coloratura was excellent with fine execution of the fioritura; the upper register had an appealing bright tone. We wanted her to let go of the piano and act the part. The character Philine is an actress after all!

Édouard Lalo came along a generation later and his Le Roi d'Ys is high on our list after hearing tenor Yunxuan Zhu perform Mylio's aubade to his bride. We liked the timbre of his voice and his ardent delivery. Lalo's music is as melodic and rhythmic as one would wish. We'd like to hear more!

Massenet came along shortly thereafter and, although we are familiar with his more serious operas, hearing soprano Angela Candela sing Chérubin's Act I aria "Je suis gris" from his light hearted  opera of the same name made us want to hear the whole opera. We think singers love doing scenes of intoxication the way actors crave death scenes. Ms. Candela chewed up the non-existent scenery and created the character before she even began to sing. We loved it!

As an aside, several composers have tried to continue what Mozart and Rossini started with mixed results. We liked Corigliano's The Ghosts of Versailles and we hated Milhaud's La mère coupable.

But in telling the tale of the Almavivas, nothing can compare with Mozart's Nozze di Figaro and we enjoyed Cherubino's aria "Voi che sapete" sung by mezzo-soprano Heather Jones who showed that she knew what she was singing about. We remember Ms. Jones well from her performances with Cantanti Project, Light Opera of New York, and Mannes Opera.

From his Don Giovanni,  soprano Jaeyeon Kim gave a convincing portrayal of Donna Anna in "Crudele...Non mi dir". There was a good contrast between the legato and the fioritura. We appreciated that she stepped forward from the security of the piano and connected with the audience.

We found plenty of other works to enjoy from the Baroque and Classical periods.
From Händel's Giulio Cesare, soprano Mithuna Sivaraman tackled the long and difficult aria "Da tempeste il legno infranto" and wrestled it to the ground. We loved Cleopatra's enthusiasm expressed through accurate coloratura that served the text. Her performance reminded us of how much we enjoyed her performances with Cantanti Projects and New Camerata Opera.

From his Rinaldo, we heard the famous "Lascia ch'io pianga" given a splendid performance by soprano So-Chung Shinn who conveyed Almirena's grief by means of vocal artistry and facial expression. We would like to see her add some involvement with her body as well which would necessitate letting go of the piano! The embellishments in the return were finely rendered.

In the opera canon, Haydn is kind of a wild card. Baritone Luka Jozic conveyed the joy of a happy farmer in "Schon eilet froh der Akersmann" from Die Jahreszeiten, and he did it in good crisp German.

Sarah Heilman's German was also fine in "Ach, ich liebte" from Die Entführung aus dem Serail. Her bright tone was notable in the upper register.

We are looking forward to a performance of Carl Maria von Weber's Der Freischutz next season and got a good preview when soprano Hanna Lee performed Ännchen's aria "Einst träumte meiner sel'gen Base". This character has a lot of personality and Ms. Lee captured all the nuances as she related her scary dream to Agatha the bride. She had no problem establishing the character by means of expression and gesture. It was a treat.

We have saved for last the aria "My Darling Jim" from Tom Ciupullo's Glory Denied. This is one of those prosey arias that amounted to a weather report, apparently from a wife to her husband who is fighting in the Vietnam War. Soprano Jessica Bayne employed perfect diction and appeared involved but we were bored. This is generally the case with contemporary opera with which we rarely can relate. We crave melody!

The excellent accompanists for the evening were Jestin Pieper and Pei-Wen Chen.

Next week will bring another concert of arias and two recitals of opera scenes, all of which we intend to attend. The win-win situation here is that the students at the institute get an opportunity to perform and the audience gets a thrilling evening of singing, without cost. Do come!  You won't be disappointed.

(c) meche kroop


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