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, February 23, 2020


Natasha Novitskaia, Joanna Parisi, Maria Brea, Maestro Jason Tramm, Alla Perchikova,
Dongwon Shin, and Kevin Short

Unless you are a regular subscriber at The Metropolitan Opera, opportunities to hear large voices are rare. Since we generally focus on reviewing young artists, we are accustomed to hearing recitals of arias from the Bel Canto period which require light flexible voices. Voices of weight are not unknown to us but are surely not our daily bread and butter.

Last night at Merkin Concert Hall we heard some large voices that cut right through the full sound of The MidAtlantic Philharmonic Orchestra, led with panache by Maestro Jason Tramm. The concert was a joint production of Grandi Voci Concerts, Mathew Laifer Artists Management and MidAtlantic Artistic Productions.

The cast of seasoned performers was joined by Maria Brea, a young soprano whose star is on the rise, one we have been reviewing for the past few years. Regular readers will recall the satisfaction we achieve from witnessing the progress of young artists. 

Not all rising stars make it but Ms. Brea is appearing just about everywhere this year and dazzling us with her poise, enchanting sound, and versatility. We have enjoyed her in opera and in zarzuela (recently with New Camerata Opera); she will appear this Friday with Around the World in Song, singing songs from her native Venezuela.

Last night she performed the melodic and memorable "Depuis le jour" from Charpentier's Louise, sung in fine French. We felt as if we were taken on a romantic journey through this well modulated performance. The resonance was highly pleasing to the ear and was accompanied by some fine playing by the harpist.

The other singers on the program are already well established and treated us to some worthwhile performances which were interspersed with instrumental selections which we will describe later.

Concert performances of operatic arias deprive the singers of costuming, sets, and supporting chorus members. It is entirely on the shoulders of the singer to take us someplace. This is easier for the audience if they are familiar with the aria and its place in the opera.

For us this was easiest when bass Kevin Short sang "Ella giammai m'amo" from Verdi's Don Carlo. We are very familiar with the aria and always marvel at the way Verdi was able to evoke sympathy for a horrible character who steals his son's fiancée and then plots to have him killed!

The solo cello begins the sympathy-evoking process and the orchestra picks up on it. The plaintive violins portray the suffering of a man who never foresaw the unintended consequences of his behavior. Mr. Short's covered sound indicated King Philip's morose reflections in Italianate fashion. There was a fine decrescendo of despair at the end.

In an entirely different mood his reflective vocal coloration was exchanged for an expansive and powerful one in "Le veau d'or" from Gounod's Faust. There was no "sympathy for the devil"!

Soprano Alla Perchikova began "Vieni! t'afretta" from Verdi's Macbeth with some dramatic speaking, leading into an impassioned recitativo. Her urgency was reflected in the orchestra as she uses all her resources to lead her husband down a dangerous path.

Following the gorgeous "Intermezzo Sinfonico" from Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana (Oh, that harp again!) we had mezzo-soprano Natasha Novitskaia taking on the soprano role of Santuzza in "Voi lo sapete" in which Santuzza explains her predicament to her lover's mother. Her upper register handled the tessitura just fine but there was an occasional problem with intonation.

Tenor Dongwon Shin created a portrait of a bitter miserable clown singing about how he hides his pain behind costume and makeup. Of course we are speaking of "Vesti la Giubba" from Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci.

He too had an opportunity to show his versatility in "Di quella pira" from Verdi's Il Trovatore which requires varied dynamics and coloration. The audience loved it although we found the voice a bit pushed as the orchestra grew louder.

As a lead-in to the "Habanera" from Bizet's Carmen, we had the highly accomplished young violinist Hyojin Kim performing Sarasate's Carmen Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra. We thought of the violin as playing a highly embellished vocal line and relished the glissandi and what singers call fioritura. The scene from Lilas Pastia's tavern was spirited, even frenzied and we saw it vividly created in our mind's eye. The seductiveness of the "Habanera" was well realized.

We were puzzled when the aria was performed right afterward by soprano Joanna Parisi and we did not feel the same seductiveness. Our view of her was blocked, which may have been partly responsible, but we think the seductiveness should have come through better in the vocal coloration.

Similarly, Ms. Novitskaia's "Mon coeur s'ouvre à ta voix" from Saint-Saëns' Samson et Dalila did not offer as much seductiveness as we have heard before. But we did love the harp accompaniment. Oh that harp again! Unfortunately, the musicians were not credited in the program.

We enjoyed the duet from Verdi's Aida in which Amneris tricks Aida into revealing her feelings for Radames--"Fu la sorte dell'armi". Cat and mouse; mezzo and soprano! 

What we most appreciated about Ms. Perchikova is what amounted to a lesson in legato singing. There was a long line of vowels with consonants seemingly dropped in. It was a masterpiece of Italianate singing. It seemed as if she were caressing each word inside her mouth.

Another feature we noted in her singing was a successful handling of the low tessitura in "Suicidio!" from Ponchielli's La Gioconda.

The entire cast performed the "Libiamo" scene from Verdi's La Traviata as an encore, sending the audience out in a joyful mood.

© meche kroop

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