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, December 21, 2019


Lauren Flanigan, Amanda Villegas, Elizabeth Blancke-Biggs, Daniel Sumegi, Mark Delavan, Stephen Gaertner,
and David Adam Moore performing in Comfort Ye

Comfort Ye marks a quarter century of superfine singing to support feeding the homeless. This is Lauren Flanigan's baby. The marvelous Ms. Flanigan has given to New York City in at least three ways: first with her triumphant operatic performances, secondly with her Music Mentoring House which houses and fosters young musicians, and finally with her community activism. Those looking for an icon of social justice need look no further.

Comfort Ye is a musical event we look forward to every year, an event at which Ms. Flanigan's numerous opera friends share their talent for a worthy cause--the West Side Campaign Against Hunger, helmed by Greg Silverman. The focus of feeding the homeless has evolved this year into a concept that is more dignified and healthier than giving out canned goods. The food pantry at St. Paul and St. Andrew's is set up like a market with fresh food for clients to select as needed. Audience members were encouraged to pay cash so that the food pantry could purchase what they need wholesale and stretch the food dollars. Audience members opened their hearts and their wallets; many brought blankets, coats, and toys as well.

The entertainment was priceless, including both the already famous and the going-to-be-famous. Musical Director Kamal Khan provided most of the accompaniment. Stars of the world stage dropped in unannounced to add to the already generous program. To list every vocal contribution would take more time and space than we have so let us try to hit the highlights.

Ms. Flanigan herself performed Lady Macbeth's Act I aria and we are pleased to report that her voice has lost none of its luster and her interpretation has only gained in dramatic effect--powerful and seductive, well suited to this power hungry character. The mood was so sustained and so gripping that an errant cell phone could not break it. She was accompanied by the supremely gifted young collaborative pianist Nicole Cloutier.

Soprano Sharleen Joynt is new to us but we became an ardent fan within the first minute of her performance of the showpiece "The Bell Song" from Delibes' Lakmé. With clarion tone and impeccable technique, she had us entranced. The lengthy melismatic passages, the fine trill,  the well-negotiated leaps, and a stunning downward portamento conspired to emphasize the exotic nature of Delibes' melodies. She was similarly dazzling in "Der Hölle Rache" from Mozart's Die Zauberflöte.  It was truly unforgettable.

Tenor Thomas Massey made some beautiful music in "De' miei bollenti spiriti" from Verdi's La Traviata. We just wrote about tenors who push their high notes and expressed a wish to hear some floated notes; we were overjoyed by Mr. Massey's easeful tenor tone that sounded natural and unforced with masterfully musical phrasing. Alfredo is the perfect role for this engaging young tenor.

He is also well suited to the role of Rodolfo as evidenced by his duet with the excellent baritone Stephen Gaertner as Marcello. The two "Bohemians" joined voices in mourning their lost loves in Puccini's moving tragedy La Bohême. The expression on their faces at the end of the duet was priceless.

Mr. Gaertner further distinguished himself in the Prologo to Leoncavallo's Pagliacci; it was so convincing an invitation to the commedia dell'arte that we wanted to stay for the show!

There was plenty of baritone talent on hand. Mark Delavan performed "Nemico della patria" from Giordano's Andrea Chénier, using his powerful vocal resources and legato phrasing to create a believable character, a victim of politics who is filled with bitterness.

David Adam Moore may have a darker colored baritone or perhaps it was the material he chose but his selections touched us deeply. "Der Leiermann" is the final lied of Schubert's tragic song cycle Die Winterreise. The tragic romantic hero comes to the end of a journey both geographic and spiritual. The song is mysterious and open to interpretation. Mr. Moore's delivery was so intense that we felt the same grief that we feel upon hearing the entire cycle.

His performance of "Urlicht" from Mahler's Second Symphony was likewise deeply felt.  In both cases, we found Mr. Kahn's accompaniment to be a great contribution. Probably it's because lieder highlight the piano-voice partnership, whereas a piano reduction for an opera aria thrusts the focus onto the voice.

A stunning performance of "Es gibt ein Reich" from Richard Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos was given by dramatic soprano Elizabeth Blancke-Biggs. We were swept away by the power of her instrument which filled out each phrase; nonetheless, there was no sacrifice of subtleties of color and dynamics.

Another large voice did total justice to "Acerba voluttà" from Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur. Mezzo-soprano Eve Gigliotti conveyed all the mixed feeling of the Princesse de Bouillion, even getting us to feel sorry for her. There was some impressive strength in the lower register, making this a perfect role for Ms. Gigliotti.

Rebecca Ringle, another mezzo-soprano, used the fioritura of "É sgombro il loco" in the service of the character Smeton in Donizetti's Anna Bolena. We liked the precision and accuracy.

Amanda Villegas Beck used her powerful soprano to create an entire scene for us in "Dich teure Halle" from Wagner's Tannhäuser by utilizing the entire width of the performing area so that we seemed to be in the very hall Elisabeth was greeting. 

Baritone Stefanos Koroneos departed from the printed program and gave us the marvelous character Dulcamara peddling his wares to the credulous crowd in Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore. Mr. Koroneos sure knows how to create a character and was just as entertaining as Gianni Schicchi in the eponymous Puccini opera. He has a real flair for humor and the staccato passages were particularly well executed.

Bass-baritone Daniel Sumegi has an instrument the tone of which makes us think of the bass clarinet, one of our favorite instruments. The way he varied his coloration and dynamics in Prince Gremin's aria from Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin was nothing short of five stars.

We will skip over the popular music and Christmas songs, although we did appreciate the selections from Händel's Messiah rather more with just the piano reduction than we have with full orchestra. It seems strange but the work seemed to have more intimacy.

We will not close before mentioning the spirited performance of the Ebony Ecumenical Ensemble. Of the three selections we greatly preferred the Nigerian Christmas carol "BeTeLeHeMu". If you guessed that stood for Bethlehem, you were correct. The audience participated under the direction of the Rev. Eugene Palmour.

Lest we forget, a strange medley on paper--Irving Berlin's "White Christmas" and Richard Strauss' "Allerseelen"-- worked beautifully in the hands of Mr. Kahn and the voice of Ms. Flanigan.

Before adjourning, the cast that remained on site joined forces for Adam's "O Holy Night". This yearly event makes its mark on all who attend. It's not just the feast of music but the spirit of generosity that marks us!

© meche kroop

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