|Lindsey Reynolds, Ashley Marie Robillard, Alec Carlson, Jane Shaulis, Ariana Wehr, Gloria Kim, and Jianan Huang|
Last night was the night. It was THE night. It was the night when the membership of Opera Index gathers for an annual celebration involving food and wine, fellowship and music. The food was provided by the members (many of whom are excellent cooks) and the entertainment was provided by five of the winners of Opera Index's 2019 Vocal Competition.
Like most competitions there is a lot of winnowing to be done, starting with a huge group of applicants. There are generous prizes to be awarded and a lot of satisfaction following the careers of the award winners as their stars ascend. The list of past winners looks like a "Who's Who" of the opera world.
President Jane Shaulis gave a warm welcome and introduced five of the winners, pictured above with the excellent accompanist Gloria Kim. We particularly enjoyed the plan of the recital in which each singer performed an aria and then all five returned to sing something lighter.
We heard five splendid singers but only one that we've been following for a long time. Tenor Alec Carlson first came to our attention about five years ago as one of the singers chosen by Steven Blier for one of his New York Festival of Song evenings. We gained a better appreciation of his artistic gifts last summer at the Santa Fe Opera. We reviewed his performances at recitals presented by the Gerda Lissner Foundation and Career Bridges, both of which granted him awards. David and Barbara Bender of Career Bridges were in attendance to cheer him on.
Last night he brought the arrogant Duke to life. Verdi gave this reprehensible character in his Rigoletto the most gorgeous aria. Every tenor would love to sing "Questa o quella" and Mr. Carlson filled it out with his generous sound and the requisite arrogant attitude. The Italianate phrasing left nothing to be desired.
Later, he performed "Freunde, das Leben ist lebenswert!" from Franz Lehar's light opera Giuditta. His German was excellent and the delivery completely stageworthy. It made us want to see the opera. The only aria with which we are familiar from the work is the famous "Meine Lippen sie kussen so heiss".
We enjoyed three special sopranos, each one special in a different way. Lindsey Reynolds performed "Je suis encore tout étourdie" from Massenet's Manon in a manner that was totally convincing. We just love performances that bring a character to life and her Manon was a sweet and innocent girl who bubbled over with excitement over her first trip. The only hint she gave of her doomed future was her naiveté. Ms. Reynolds' lovely voice was put into the service of the character. And her French was just fine.
Later, she sang "Love is where you find it" from the 1947 musical film The Kissing Bandit. (Nacio Herb Brown wrote the music and Earl K Brent wrote the lyrics.) Ms. Reynolds' voice expands magnificently in the upper register and we were waiting for some crystal to break!
Ariana Wehr gave a lovely performance of Micaëla's aria "Je dis que rien ne m'epouvante" from Bizet's Carmen. What made it so special was that she captured the complexity of the character--faith mixed with resolve but tinged by the very fear that the lyrics denied. French diction and phrasing were both admirable. We liked the fine vibrato and the intense central section.
In the second part, she gave a spirited performance of "I Could Have Danced All Night" from Lerner and Loew's My Fair Lady, demonstrating her flexibility as an artist.
Ashley Marie Robillard captured the character of Susana from Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro in her Act IV aria "Deh vieni, non tardar". Starting from the recitativo, we could see and hear that she was teasing her Figaro; she didn't need to paint it in broad strokes and we appreciated the subtlety. We were dazzled by the embellishments to the line, most of which were new to us; the arching phrase at the end was the cherry on top.
Later she sang Gershwin's "Someone to Watch Over Me" with heartfelt sentiment, reaffirming our belief in the value of hearing American theater and cabaret music unamplified.
Baritone Jianan Huang sang Don Giovanni's tender serenade from Mozart's eponymous opera--"Deh vieni alla finestra". Verdi was not the only composer to put sweet music into the mouth of a reprehensible character! And Mr. Huang sang it sweetly indeed with lovely phrasing and fine Italian.
However, it was his second entry that really enchanted us. Readers know how much we love folk music and Mr. Huang sang the most exquisite Chinese folk song, the translation of which was "Father Prairie, Mother River". There was a fine delicacy to it and a deeply felt sentiment that really got to us.
Just in case you didn't read our prior reviews of Opera Index, let us encourage you to join this fine organization which exists to support young singers and to provide an opportunity for opera lovers to get together. We were pleased to see some new faces in the audience and we'd like to see yours. The cost of membership is modest and the benefits are great.
© meche kroop