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.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019


Alfira Ahmatjan, Nina Mutalifu, Nikoleta Rallis, Eugenia Forteza, Idil Milliogullari, Hyungjoo Eom, Aza Sydykov, and Pavel Suliandziga (photo by meche kroop)

Guest review by Mario Arevalo:

“In a world outside where everyone is divided by our politicians trying to build walls and create hate, here we are in this sacred place to make music, to be together in a spirit of love, unity, and fellowship”.

These were the welcome words of Meche Kroop, a wonderful friend to all of us young artists in New York City and founder of Voce di Meche, an online blog where you can find reviews of almost every operatic and classical event in Manhattan.  A full house of friends, musicians, conductors, singers, and families came to support the singers and specially Meche Kroop since she is one of the biggest pioneers of supporting and reviewing many of these audiences events.

(Editor's comment--we are blushing at this extravagant praise but we promised to print review as written.)

Around the World in Song was a huge success, not only because of the meaning of the concert but because of the high quality of performance by all of the singers and piano collaborators. All of the singers interpreted songs from their countries, and it was like a food banquet of delicious plates starting with an amazing appetizer of songs from Russia, 1st Course of European delights from Kyrgystan,Turkey, and Greece, a 2nd Course of Latin American delights--spicy and tasty songs from Spain and Mexico accompanied by a wonderful glass of wine from Argentina, a 3rd Course of, and finishing with, a melting dessert of beautiful songs from Korea and Xianjian Uyghur Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China that left us wanting more. 

It was a well balanced and wonderfully curated program. All the repertoire except Lenski’s Aria “Kuda Kuda" from Eugene Onegin was new to our ears and let me tell you that it was worth it, traveling from far Long Island to be there and experience this joyous evening of songs from around the world. 

Most of the songs described longing, love, beautiful sceneries of important places in the singers countries, and a farewell song. Then I asked myself this question. Is it because we immigrants have to leave our families, friends, culture, traditions and music that allows us to interpret repertoire from our countries with so much heart?

 All of the singers not only showcased beautiful singing, but they were so expressive to show the beauty of poetry and their countries' traditions-- by allowing us to hear different styles of compositional form. All them were able to make us feel like we understood every single word even though there were no translations in the program. 

All the singers spoke a few lines about what the song meant to them, or what the song was about. For some it was their first time performing these songs outside their native countries. But they did show us the most important thing, at least for me. Music does not a have a tongue, Music unites, Music is love, Music is all around the world and touches hearts when performed with affection.

Russian Tenor Pavel Sulyandziga gave us a fine interpretation of the familiar aria “Kuda Kuda" from Eugene Onegin. He stated that he chose this program because next year will be Tchaikovsky's 180th Anniversary and also because Eugene Onegin was the first opera he sang. Words show intention, Words show purpose, Words show feelings and this young tenor had all of these three factors, which in these days are very important for any interpreter of opera. 
He added all the tensions and emphasis this aria needs while Lenski is in his time of despair and trying to accept his destiny.  

This wonderful fine light lyric tenor with a touch of dramatic sound was able to connect with us singing Tchaikovsky’s “To bylo ranneju vesnoj” --(in English  "It was in the early spring”) and “Den li tsarit” -- (“Whether  daylight reigns"). These two songs were able to give us a different side with more acting and interpretation from Mr. Sulyandziga. These two melodic songs allowed him to be more tender, sensitive and full of expressions. I would like to hear some Schubert songs from this young tenor.

Soprano Nikoleta Rallis also honored her husband's country and she impressed me with songs from Kyrgyzstan. To be honest I have never heard of this country, so I was blown away by the beautiful music. Very seductive, rare but very melodious. Ms. Rallis' husband told us that these two songs “Sen belesing" and "Issuk Koel Waltz”  were composed by Kaliy Moldabasanov a violinist, composer and conductor. And they chose this repertoire as an honor to the composer as his 90th birthday was 3 days ago. 

The other country she represented was Greece, her ancestors' country. She told us that none of these songs are published and that they were given as a gift to a friend of a friend, so they meant so much for her to perform. In this set she didn’t use a music stand, so we were able to get the full force of her artistry. 

“S’agapo" (I love you ) was a very sweet and powerful song. But her aria “Sofias Aria" from Markos Botsaris by Pavlos Karrer gave a full impression of Ms. Rallis' considerable communicative powers. It also showed her to be an agreeably flexible interpreter singing the recitativo and aria of this woman dressed as soldier looking for the love of her life., then catching all of our attention in the cabaletta with an almost mezzo-like tone that would suit Strauss, quickly showing a bright, powerful top.

Then we traveled to Spain with the incredible voice of Soprano Eugenia Forteza. When I start talking and writing about this singer, I always get blown away by her artistry and her surprising choice of nontraditional repertoire; it is sublime. I am a native Spanish speaker and to hear another singer singing in my mother tongue, not only makes me proud, but it also shows me the hard work singers puts into their performance. 

Each song was sung with different accents according to where the songs were written. In the aria “Lagrimas mías" or "Tears" from Miguel Marques' zarzuela El Anillo de Hierro, Ms. Forteza sounded radiant throughout with wonderful legato lines and impressive breath control. I always have asked myself how such a tiny singer can produce such a big sound. Ms. Forteza is a total diva on stage; she devours the stage; she knows every single hand move, facial expression and body movement she wants in her interpretations.

 “Morenita me llaman" from Il Postino by Daniel Catan was also very impressive. Ms. Forteza showed us yet more colors in her voice. We were blown away by her vocal and theatrical abilities. I think it is very difficult singing in your own tongue but Ms. Forteza took this bull by its tail. Singing in her own mother tongue seems to be the easiest thing for her. Her showcasing of Carlos Guastavino songs “Bonita rama de sauce” (Pretty Willow Branch) and “Hermano” (Brother) from the song cycle Doce canciones populares were two songs that were dear to me. I am a huge fan of Guastavino and when I hear someone singing with such exquisite phrasing, great diction and musicality, it makes my heart pound. Ms. Forteza should give us a full concert of Guastavinos songs since she is a pure Argentinian interpreter.

With deep tone, warmth, and sensitivity, South Korean Baritone Hyungjoo Eom gave us some beautiful and romantic singing of Korean composer Hak Jun Yoon's  “Majoon" (Coming to meet you) and "Janhyang" ( Your scent)-- two beautiful art songs. They were absolutely gorgeous. To me they sounded like 21st century wedding songs. Very intimate, sensual and romantic pieces. 

His voice is very tenor like, even though he is a baritone. His upper range is open throated, but with the deep colors of a baritone. I think he is a tenor but time will tell. I loved his Folk Song interpretation of "Shingosan Taryoung" (A song of Shingo mountain) a very popular song according to the singer, and so ancestral that nobody knows who the composer is; there have been many arrangements. The song is about a mountain located in North Korea that everyone loves and praises and in this song the singer is saying “I believe I want to live in this mountain with you my love, but I am single so I will still go and visit and live there” --translation according to the singer.

Soprano Idil Milliogullari gave us two arias by contemporary Turkish Composer Selman Ada. The first aria “Gne kizlik aryasi” from Ask-I Memnu (Forbidden Love) is based on Halid Ziya’s romantic novel of the same name, published in 1900. As in the novel, our protagonist is Adnan Bey, but in addition to the extramarital love affair that leads to his young wife Bihter’s suicide, the story emphasized the dictatorship of Abdülhamid II, who was the Ottoman Sultan in the early 20th century. 

Ms. Milliogullari possesses a very expressive, light coloratura soprano. She looked wonderful onstage with that beautiful dress and made an impact in this concert. Her 2nd Aria was from Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. The singer sings a lullaby to put the bad guys to sleep. A humorous fantasy, it became the most popular opera in Turkey, and was initially directed by Murat Göksu in Ankara in 1991. Ms. Milliogullari has a lovely soprano voice that she uses well, and her performance was both vocally pleasing and dramatically convincing. The aria was very mysterious and enchanting. The language sounded very difficult to sing. So kudos to this performer for making me want to hear more.

Our last singer of the evening was Nina Mutalifu, who to me and to some of my friends that were present in the concert, stole the show. She is an angel, she is a superstar. Her dark chocolate voice was gorgeous. Her interpretations of Uyghur songs were out of this world. The 1st song “Tarim” (Farewell) by Iskender Seypulla, according to the singer, is about the people of Tarim saying goodbye to their people by the river. This was her opening song and it impressed us so much that we couldn’t wait to hear the rest of them. The 2nd Song “Bulbujan” (My nightingale)  is about singing to the love of her life, in sweet sounds like a nightingale. Ms. Mutalifu used her large and splendid soprano voice to great dramatic effect as she expressed the depth of her love. 

The 3rd Song “Seni Esleymen” (Longing) really brought tears to my eyes--a song about longing for one's family. In this song Ms. Mutalifu got very emotional and showcased a range of emotions through  her singing. It was her low and middle range that truly held my attention. A gorgeous voice with warmth and charm, her facial expressions alone convey that pain of longing for her family. I truly felt it. 

Her last song was “Bir Piyale Mey” (Wine of Love) a song to the people that love her; she returns the love and thanks them with a glass of wine. She is a soprano that clearly adds passion and personality to every song she interprets. I am sure I will be hearing about this singer coming up soon. I truly enjoyed her speech about allowing her culture and traditions to be represented outside her country. Her grandpa told her to never forget where she came from.

The exquisite playing of both piano collaborators was sublime. Ms. Mutalifu was accompanied by Alfira Ahmatjan and all the others were accompanied by Aza Sydykov of the Kyrgyz American Foundation. Kudos to Meche Kroop for presenting this fascinating concert. 

I am thankful for being allowed to write this review. As an Ambassador of Fine Arts and Culture for The United Nations Association of El Salvador, I truly congratulate every single performer for showcasing their country's music, composers, and heritage. Being proud of where we come from is what distinguishes us. But when you truly do it because you love your country and all your heritage, it truly acknowledges that you might leave behind your family, friends and countries far away, but all of them never leave your heart and mind until you meet again.

Mario Arévalo
Founder & Artistic Director
Una Voz, Un Mundo

Goodwill Ambassador for Fine Arts & Culture
United Nations Association of El Salvador, UNA-SV

© meche kroop

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