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, September 22, 2019


Pavel Nersessian and Katrin Bulke

What makes a great recital?  Of course, one wants to listen to a voice that stirs us; a close partnership between singer and collaborative pianist is essential; and there is also the matter of the program. Sometimes a great singer can give us pleasure even when singing material that is not to our taste; but when a singer we love sings songs that we love, we are over the moon.

Last night at St. John's in the Village, soprano Katrin Bulke, in partnership with pianist Pavel Nersessian, put us well over the moon in a program we couldn't have enjoyed more if we had chosen it ourself. Ms.Bulke has appeared a number of times in our reviews so it would be redundant to describe her impressively clarion tone, musical phrasing, and impeccable linguistic ability.

So, let us focus now on the dramatic interpretation. Schubert's songs are like mini operas.  Take for example "Die Forelle" in which there are three characters which the singer can bring to life: the titular trout, the predatory fisherman, and the observer who seems sympathetic to the poor deceived fish. Listening to the perfect marriage between Schubert's music and Schubart's text, sung as only a native speaker of German can, we felt at one with the observer standing on the bank of a river.

Similarly, "Gretchen am Spinnrade", Goethe's tale of a deceived woman,  reminded us of every woman who's ever been ghosted-- filled with despair at one moment but also ecstasy in the memory of a lost love. Schubert's music kept the spinning wheel spinning and Ms. Bulke gave us every emotion of the poor girl. In this lied, one can almost hear what came before and what will come after.

In "Auf dem Wasser zu singen", the metaphor of the boat gliding over the water stands for the soul and whilst Ms. Bulke's voice floated above the piano line, we thought of the transitory nature of life.

Mozart's concert aria "Vorrei spiegarvi, O Dio!" is made devilishly difficult by unbelievably wide upward skips into the vocal stratosphere; it was in no way  daunting for the intrepid Ms. Bulke. The aria sounds as if it came from an opera and it did, but not from one by Mozart. It was an "insertion aria" for an opera by Pasquale Anfossi. It predated Mozart's Die Zauberfl√∂te by several years and shares some of the challenges he would pose in the arias for the Queen of the Night.

Ms. Bulke's operatic interpretations are as artistic as those for lieder. We were so enthralled with "Ah, non credea mirarti" from Bellini's La Sonnambula that we recorded it on our cell phone and posted it to Instagram where you can watch and listen to the dramatic artistry for yourself (IG: vocedimeche). You may also find it on our personal FB page (meche kroop).

Of course, there is no more dramatic scena than Violetta's Act I excursion into female ambivalence. "Girls just want to have fun" does battle with the possibility of true love. Every emotion was limned from recitativo to aria to cabaletta. We would gladly have heard it repeated.

Ms. Bulke's talent for lighthearted fun was exhibited in the encore--"Mein Herr Marquis", otherwise known as Adele's "Laughing Song" from Johann Strauss' Die Fledermaus; in this aria, Adele in disguise tweaks her employer who is also in disguise.

Ms. Bulke's dramatic artistry utilizes not just vocal coloration but the generous use of gesture and facial expression. The overall effect is deliciously involving.

We have nothing but praise for the fine supportive accompaniment by Pavel Nersessian. Still, it took a few piano solos for us to appreciate his versatility. It's been some time since we failed to master Schubert's Impromptus so we were thrilled to hear them the way they are meant to be played. Mr. Nersessian's hands are soft on the keys with fleet fingers. Schubert seems to like arpeggi in one hand and melody in the other with roles exchanged readily. We particularly enjoyed #4 which totally defeated us in spite of significant labor; Mr. Nersessian made it seem easy. The several sections are varied and the overall effect was profound.

The #2 from the same op.90 has a great deal of filigree and Mr. Nersessian succeeded in bringing out the melody. He also played a few pleasing works by Georges Bizet.

We walked on air for the rest of the night! 

This concert was sponsored by Get Classical and The Foundation of the Revival of Classical Culture.

(c) meche kroop

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