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, October 19, 2019


Kelly Singer, Juan Hernandez Tair Tazhi, Corinn Springer, Polina Egudina, and Samantha McElhaney
Juliet Morris, Margarita Gushcha, Diana Skavronskaya, Samuel Chiba and Unknown Person who did not sing

We love hearing singers for the first time and being surprised. Sometimes we are happily surprised and sometimes we are disappointed. Last night's IMAO program at Weill Recital Hall had more pleasant surprises than unfortunate ones. All were beautifully accompanied on the piano by Christian Ugenti and Giovanni Longo--both excellent.

Let us begin with a bass from Kazakhstan--Tair Tazhigulov. He gave the lie to the saying that the bass voice is a late maturing fach. Of course, we do not know Mr. Tazhigulov's age but he appears young whilst having a mature sound with depth and breadth. In "Come, dal ciel precipita" from Verdi's Macbeth, he conveyed Banquo's tenderness toward his son Fleanzio with lovely phrasing, and used a different color to limn the anxiety, urging the youth to flee the assassins.

In "Kak vo gorode bïlo vo kazani" from Mussorgsky's masterpiece Boris Godunov, he sang with authority and dramatic validity. We couldn't help but think of all the bass roles that we would like to hear him sing.

We were also introduced to a very young tenor who showed a great deal of promise with a sweet unforced sound and amplitude of feeling. Juan Hernandez is his name and he is someone to watch. With the correct embouchure he produced a lovely Italianate sound in "Una furtiva lagrima" from Donizetti's comedy L'Elisir d'Amore. There was a lovely downward glissando, some admirable melismatic singing, and a finely drawn out decrescendo at the end. We thought of a fine silken thread suspended in the air.

He effectively created the character of the Duke in the final quartet from Verdi's Rigoletto. This quartet was not exactly up to snuff since the balance was off; the poor baritone was drowned out and the women overacted.

The "poor baritone" sounded just fine in his subsequent solo. Samuel Chiba has a pleasing lyric instrument and delighted us with "Pierrot's Tanzlied" from Korngold's  Die tote Stadt. We would love to see Mr. Chiba get rid of the stock gestures he employed and produce something meaningful from within to amplify the text.

Getting to the women singers, there was no faulting the gestures of the enchanting and aptly named soprano Kelly Singer, the only one on the program that we have heard many times before. Although we have enjoyed her Zerbinetta and her Clorinda, it is her performance of "Non monsieur mon mari", from the very funny Poulenc opera Les Mamelles de Tirésias, that we recall the best.

That seems to be Ms. Singer's signature aria, the one which earned her awards from both the Ades Competition and from Career Bridges. Ms. Singer knows exactly how to get a song across with the organic gestures that were missing from the baritone's performance. To say that we love her voice and admire her stage presence would be an understatement.

Soprano Diana Skavronskya is new to us and made an excellent impression with her sparkling delivery of "Ah! Je ris de me voir" from Gounod's Faust. This young woman has charm and presence to spare and had no problem creating the character of Marguerite, drawing us into the performance so effectively that we could see the mirror in our mind's eye, as well as the jewels that dazzled the poor girl. To ice the cake, her French was as fine as could be.

Innocent excitement would seem to be a specialty of Gounod and the aria "Ah! Je veux vivre dans le rève" from Faust was given an excellent performance by soprano Margarita Gushcha who used her scintillating soprano to bring Juliet's excitement and innocence to life.

We decline to name the singers who disappointed us; sometimes a singer is just having a bad day or has recently changed teachers and is in a transitional period.  We witnessed some instances of lackluster stage presence such as clutching the piano and some acting directed to a nonexistent  fifth balcony which one only sees in silent film, as well as a Dalila that couldn't seduce Samson with a note from her mother. We don't know which is worse, overacting or underacting.

We also heard several technical flaws that need correction as well-- a voice too far back in the throat and one with excessive vibrato that bordered on wobbledom. Nonetheless, the audience had a wonderful time and the hall was filled to the bursting point.

We have one complaint having nothing to do with the singing. We acknowledge that, in the absence of titles, it's a good idea to let the audience know what each aria is about, since there are always people in the audience new to opera. We love it when the artist him/herself addresses the audience. We don't mind if this information is printed in the program. What annoyed us was having narration read out loud. 

The "reader" was a well known author who has written a fine volume A Mad Love: An Introduction to Opera; we happily recommend it to all noobies. But the written word is not equivalent to speech as it is spoken. How much better it would have been if Ms. Schweitzer had just told us what she clearly knows. We were reminded of professional conferences in which the presenter read his paper. Total snooze, folks!

We might add that the evening was arranged along a time continuum from Monteverdi onward and ended with the entire cast singing "Make Our Garden Grow" from Bernstein's Candide--the perfect way to end an evening.

We praise IMAO for their vigorous talent scouting, intensive training, and their help in launching the careers of young singers.

© meche kroop


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