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, January 11, 2020


Felix Jarrar, Alexandra Lang, Angela Candela, Gillian Watson, Celeste Morales, Robert Colon, and Chantal Brundage

What a splendid idea to provide a safe place for young artists to try out new material. Angela Candela's brainstorm is in its second year and we are so glad that we were able to attend. We have wonderful memories from last April as well as from last night. We heard a few sopranos that we have heard before and a couple who were new to us, as well as a countertenor. All were accompanied by the versatile pianist/composer Felix Jarrar who always gives his all to whatever he undertakes.

Several of the singers have upcoming auditions and competitions and were trying out their arias in front of a live audience, all the members of which were supportive, giving them the applause they so richly deserved. A few asked us for suggestions to improve their presentations but those who asked struck us as being performance ready. All the singers introduced themselves and told the background of the arias they were about to sing. This is so helpful and we thought of this as event as the perfect one with which to introduce an opera newbie.

Ms. Candela is a remarkable soprano whom we have reviewed a number of times -- at the gala of Classic Lyric Arts and at the International Vocal Arts Institute. Her ability to slip into any role makes her an artist to watch. We still recall her hilarious "Je suis grise".

Her Mimi last night (from Puccini's La Bohême) served to introduce her character in a way that made us want her to "get the guy". Like any young woman on a first date she was "selling herself" with both winsomeness and flirtatiousness. She colored her lovely voice with sweetness and negotiated the upward leaps with a satin legato.

Later in the program, she picked up where Chantal Brundage left off in Violetta's Act I scene from Verdi's La Traviata. Ms. Brundage gave gravitas and vulnerability to the "Forse lui"  and Ms. Candela stepped in with the fiery cabaletta "Sempre libera", filled with stunning coloratura effects. What a versatile artist she is!

Celeste Morales is well remembered from her admirable Alice in Verdi's Falstaff at Manhattan School of Music. Last night she gave a deeply affecting performance of Liu's aria "Signor ascolta" from Puccini's Turandot. With terrific technique, she portrayed the desperation and anguish of the slave girl warning her master. The sets and costumes appeared in our mind's eye--always a good sign of a successful portrayal. We loved the legato line, the Italianate phrasing, and the dynamic variety.

In a total change of pace, she also performed Joseph Marx's romantic "Hat dich die Liebe berührt"; we are pleased to report that the German was excellent. We were inspired to hear more of this late 19th c. Romantic composer. 

The first time we met Alexandra Lang, she was directing a charming pastiche of operetta for New Camerata Opera, which may actually have been our introduction to the company that was to grow into a successful presence on Planet Opera. Last night she tackled the extremely difficult mad scene from Donizetti's Anna Bolena and made us sit up and take notice.

Not only is the vocal line devilishly difficult but the singer must portray a wide range of emotions by employing a variety of vocal colors. The doomed Queen faces death with denial at first, luxuriating in some pleasant memories, and then with panic. The flowing legato of the aria was followed by a fioritura-filled cabaletta, marked by accuracy in the scale passages and arpeggi. It was riveting and we believed Ms. Lang's characterization.

Gillian Watson is new to us and we were glad to have her brought to our attention. Her bright and powerful instrument was put to good use in "Mi tradi" from Mozart's Don Giovanni. She evinced a fine vibrato and successfully negotiated the melismatic arpeggi. She limned the character of Donna Elvira with fine vocal control combined with generous use of gesture.

Later in the program we heard her fine French in "Il est doux, il est bon" from the seldom performed Hérodiade by Massenet.

Robert Colon, the sole male on the program, is listed as a countertenor but the unevenness throughout his register made it difficult to place him in that fach. He sang our beloved "Verdi prati" from Händel's Alcina with feeling and expressiveness and some very interesting embellishments of the vocal line in the repeat. However, he needs to work on getting his voice centered and perhaps considering a different fach. His second selection was "on the book" and did nothing to change our initial impression since we heard a lot more chest voice than one would expect from a countertenor.

The concert lasted but an hour but gave us a great deal to appreciate. We hope we will be free for the next Underground Salon.

© meche kroop

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