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.

Friday, December 20, 2019


David Gvinianidze, Johnathan McCullough, Zoya Gramagin,  Olga Lisovskaya, Nina Mutalifu, Yulan Piao, Giovanni Formisano, John William Gomez, WooYoung Yoon, and Tianchi Zhang

You will never hear us complain when we get more than we bargain for. We came to hear "Three Tenors" and we heard four, the fourth being Tianchi Zhang, a welcome last minute addition to the program. We were impressed by the sweetness of his sound at last year's Talents of the World concert and he lived up to his promise. We also got to hear some splendid sopranos and two baritones. L'abbondanza!

Let us address the tenors first. We loved the variety of the selections (opera, operetta, canzone Napolitane, and English Christmas songs). We enjoyed the opportunity to hear four tenors side by side, the better to appreciate their diverse colors. We became aware of the two very different aspects of the tenor voice that appeal to different people.

Many people in the sizable audience at Weill Recital Hall seemed enamored with high volume "money notes" which, to our ears, sounded pushed-- to the point that our own throat felt constricted in sympathy. What we personally appreciate is a floated high note for which we generally hold our breath lest we interfere with the delicate tickling of our ears.

The "tag team" presentation of famous arias on the program, with each tenor singing a different verse, seemed to yield a feeling of competition between the tenors resulting in a great deal more pushing than we would care to hear. The occasional pianissimi seemed like gems among boulders. We felt puzzled that the audience seemed to be more impressed by volume, even at the expense of beauty of tone; but then, they also applauded between the cantabile and the cabaletta. Has our own taste become too epicurean? We think not. We hold to our position.

We are always learning and our "take home" from last year was that singers should play to their strengths. Our "take home" this year is that putting tenors in a competitive situation, no matter how friendly, brings out the worst in them. We admit that the gestures and facial expressions, as each tenor yielded to the next, were entertaining but it was at the expense of the music.

Solos were more to our liking. Mr. Zhang overcame our indifference to song in English with a beautifully enunciated performance of d'Hardelot's "Because" and overcame our loathing for the music stand with a performance of "Silent Night" in Mandarin. This was a new experience for us and showed the beauty of the language itself and the simplicity of the melody without all the accrued baggage. Still, our vote goes to "De' bollenti spiriti" from Verdi's La Traviata for Mr. Zhang's Italianate legato phrasing and sweet resonant tone.

WooYoung Yoon's facility with language served him well in "Dein ist mein ganzes Herz" from Lehár's Das Land des Lächelns and in "Ah, lève-toi soleil" from Gounod's Roméo et Juliette. We enjoyed his ringing tone and expressive gestures as well as his ardent delivery. There were times when we thought that more variety of dynamics and color would have taken the performance from a 9 to a 10.

Giovanni Formisano had his best moment in, of all things, "Maria" from Bernstein's West Side Story. The lower tessitura and pianissimo passages gave us a better appreciation of his strengths and we wondered whether he was meant to be a baritone. One would have expected him to be at his best in his native tongue but, well, there it was--perfect English, ardent delivery, and lovely sound.

John W. Gomez' high point was "No puede ser" from Sorozábal's La tabernera del puerto, a favorite zarzuela of ours. He performed it with the requisite passion. We enjoyed the variety of colors and dynamics.

We weren't expecting sopranos but were thrilled to hear them. Zoya Gramagin made a spectacular Carmen, singing Bizet's seductive "Habanera" with conviction as well as interestingly textured tone. We thought of her as a falcon, which is what the French call a darkly colored dramatic soprano. Whatever you call her voice, it was a pleasure to hear, well-centered and even from the lower register to the top.

We first heard Nina Mitalifu singing in Italian with Martina Arroyo's Prelude to Performance. Then we heard her sing in Uighur for the Eurasia Festival and were so impressed that we asked her to sing her Uighur songs at one of our Around the World in Song concerts. Since then, we have heard and admired her singing in Russian and French. 

Last night we loved her waltzy "O Paris gai séjour" from Lecocq's Les Cents Vierges, an opera completely unknown to us. There was ample variety in the central section to show off what she can do with her magnificent instrument. (What can't she do!) The sinuous melismatic passages included a fine trill and the return included some graceful coloratura.

She performed quite charmingly as Zerlina with baritone Johnathan McCullough as the lustful Don Giovanni. Mr. McCullough came to vivid life in this scene; he was a lot more involved than he was in Hamlet's aria from the Thomas opera. We like more drama in our drinking songs!

We only got a tiny taste of the artistry of soprano Yulan Piao but enough to admire her sparkling well-focused instrument. Her perfect blending with Mr. Yoon's tenor in "Tanzen möchte ich" from Kalman's The Csárdás Princess has a reason; Mr. Yoon and Ms. Piao are indeed newlyweds. Ms. Piao did look and sound every inch a princess.

Baritone David Gvinianidze, Founder and President of Talents of the World, was joined by soprano Olga Lisovskaya, Director of Talents of the World, for the festive and rhythic "Spagnola" by Di Chiara. They are obviously far more experienced artists and were uniquely able to modulate their voices to the size of the room. It was a spirited and winning performance.

Accompanists for the evening were Stanislav Serebriannikov and Bradley Pennington, both of whom rose to the challenge of accommodating many different styles of music and many different voices.

Talents of the World will have a Christmas Ball on Sunday night and we hope you will join us for a night of revelry, singing, and dancing. There will be some vocal superstars on board and special guest Aprile Millo.

© meche kroop 

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