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, December 8, 2019


Singers and Judges in Premiere Opera Foundation's International Vocal Competition Finals Concert

This was a great week for vocal competitions; we attended three of them! Truth to tell, there is nothing we enjoy more than these events. We get to hear a wide variety of material sung by some of the best vocal talent around. We get to watch the growth of young singers with whom we are familiar and we get to meet young singers from other cities that we don't usually get to hear.

Although all competitions share common features like excitement and cash prizes, each vocal competition has a different emphasis. Yesterday's competition inaugurated the union between the Premiere Opera Foundation and NYIOP, thus extending the concept of the competition beyond cash prizes by incorporating the function of auditioning. Instead of young artists traveling the world to audition, NYIOP brought casting directors to the event. If we were casting directors we would have felt like a gourmet at a banquet!

There was so much talent onstage to appreciate and such a distinguished panel of judges, including our own dear friend Ken Benson, Stefanos Koroneos and Maestro Israel Gursky from Teatro Grattacielo, Eric Margiore of Premiere Artists Management,and world famous soprano Erin Morley whose performances always thrill us.  

A field of 200 applicants was winnowed down to 91 semi-finalists; at the prior day's semi-finals, 20 young singers were chosen as finalists. It was interesting to us that in addition to the generous prizes awarded to the finalists, prizes were also given to some of the semi-finalists. No one walked away empty handed. Some prizes were cash and others were study grants abroad, vocal and career consultations, or coachings. Just imagine being able to coach with Ms. Morley!!!

We loved Nina Mutalifu's interpretation of Adriana Lecouvreur's famous aria "Io son l'umile ancella" in which her soaring soprano was used effectively to show both the character's diva stature but also her modesty. Ms. Mutalifu has sung in our Around the World in Song concerts, performing Uighur songs in her native language. What a treat to hear her sing a realismo role in Italian!

Tim Murray's pleasingly textured baritone was put in the service of limning the character of the clueless Count Almaviva. We watched and listened with glee as his ire grows. 

Mezzo-soprano Michaela Wolz performed "Parto, ma tu ben mio" from Mozart's La clemenza di Tito with variety of color in each verse, growing in ardency. There was something deeply affecting as she repeated "Guardami!"

Soprano Tatev Baroyan did justice to the "Snow Maiden's Aria" from the Rimsky-Korsakov opera. We recently saw this exquisite fairytale opera at Manhattan School of Music and Ms. Baroyan's ethereal interpretation was filled with the requisite innocence of the character.

Heldentenor Kevin Ray wisely chose the impassioned aria "Amfortas! Die Wunde!" from Wagner's Parsifal. His sizable instrument filled the sanctuary with overtones as his sincerity grew in power.

Mezzo-soprano Carolyn Sproule made a fine Adalgisa, beautifully shaping the long phrases of "Sgombra e la sacra selva" from Bellini's Norma. She has an admirable true mezzo sound and ended with a finely wrought decrescendo.

Joo Won Kang was one of several superb Verdi baritones on the program. His performance was well modulated and he brought considerable excitement to the cabaletta. We liked the resonance of his instrument as well.

Soprano Alexandra Razskazoff scored highly in that feature as well. She brought a lot of vocal excitement to "Come in quest'ora bruna" from Verdi's Simon Boccanegra. We liked the exquisite dynamic control and the fine vibrato of her instrument.

Baritone Denis Milo phrased "Onegin's Aria" beautifully and sang in fine Russian. We got more involved when he used dramatic emphasis and wished he would use his body more. We realize that Onegin is a somewhat pompous character and a bit stiff in his "Dutch Uncle advice" to Tatiana; but he is Russian after all and the performance would have been more affecting with a little more gesture.

Tenor Joseph Tancredi attracted our notice as an undergraduate at Manhattan School of Music and then as an Apprentice at Santa Fe Opera. We love witnessing his promise being fulfilled. His beautiful sweet tone was just right for the role of The Italian Tenor in Richard Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier.

Baritone Bryan Murray is winning prizes all over town. "Pierrot's Tanzlied" won him prizes from Opera Index and Talents of the World; let's consider it his very own showpiece! We were happy to hear it again as he gave each phrase a lovely shape and nostalgic perfume.

Victoria Davis has a big beautiful soprano sound and succeeded in creating a character in "Do Not Utter a Word" from Barber's Vanessa, one of the few operas in English that we enjoy. The problem is that words get lost in the upper register more readily in English than in other languages.

Baritone Jianan Huang sang "O Carlo ascolta" from Verdi's Don Carlo with Italianate legato phrasing and gorgeous tone. He gave us chills and won us over by being completely immersed in the prison cell scene. 

Soprano Quan Chen, stunningly gowned, added to our earlier impression of her as a perfect Puccini soprano. Recently we heard her "Chi il bel sogno di Doretta" from La Rondine, and last night she sang "Un bel di vedremo", allowing us to watch the harbor along with her. We always enjoy an aria more when the singer visualizes the scene and we can see it through her/his eyes.

Mezzo-soprano Polixeni Tziouvaras gave an hypnotic rendering of "Ô ma lyre immortelle" from Gounod's Sapho. She is a highly expressive singer and uses her entire body; she pulled us into the world of the aria so effectively that we forgot we were sitting in a church sanctuary. With gorgeous clearly enunciated French, of which every word was understood, she painted an aural picture filled with melancholy colors. Last April she sang in Greek for Around the World in Song, making a significant impression.

Soprano Amanda Palmeiro has a sizable voice with a bright sheen. She was convincing as the troubled Juliette in the Gounod opera, going through various moods with each verse of "Amour ranime mon courage". We enjoyed the very pretty trill and her fine French.

Monica Dewey used her sparkly soprano in Gilda's "Caro nome" from Verdi's Rigoletto. We admired the precision of her fioritura.

From the same opera we heard Rigoletto's aria "Cortigiani, vil razza dannata" performed perfectly by baritone Kidon Choi who seems destined to be a Verdi baritone. He didn't need a hump to convince us! His delivery grew in power and anger with superb modulation of color and dynamics. We felt his pain.

There was only one counter-tenor on the program and it was a welcome change to hear Gamaliel Reynoso Mejia convey the terror of the stowaway from Jonathan Dove's Flight. It was a moving performance and we could best appreciate the fine spin of his voice in the melismatic passages. The tessitura is so high that the words got lost. Thankfully, we had seen the opera before with titles and knew the story.

Soprano Elisabeth Rosenberg closed the program with "Einsam in trüben Tagen" from Wagner's Lohengrin, sung with power. It was a fine close to an excellent program.

Michael Fennelly did yeoman's work accompanying the entire lengthy program with the right support for each singer. He always does and we appreciate him from the bottom of our opera loving heart.

The evening concluded with a reception, enabling audience members, judges, and singers to mingle and network.  What a fine evening!

© meche kroop

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