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.

Thursday, February 20, 2020


Catherine Swindle, Elizaveta Kozlova, Alexandra Lang, Angela Candela,
Jason Wirth, Manami Aoki, and Jose Luis Maldonado

Once upon a time, we wrote about underground restaurants and got chubby; writing about underground singers makes us happy. For these delightful showcases at Scorca Hall in the National Opera Center, we have soprano Angela Candela to thank. Long on our radar screen as a singular soprano with divine dramatic instincts, Ms. Candela has proven to be an inventive impresario.

Her Underground Salons provide a supportive environment for rising stars to try out new material in front of an accepting audience. The singers may want to use this material for upcoming auditions so they value the experience of running their selections past a live audience.

From our point of view, it is a golden opportunity to hear singers we love trying out new roles and also to get acquainted with new singers. Let us begin with Ms. Candela herself whom we have always appreciated for bringing a character to vivid life.

Under workshop circumstances, we tend to be more forgiving of the presence of a music stand, especially when the language involved is Czech. Dvorak's "Song to the Moon" from Rusalka presents vocal challenges and linguistic ones as well, both of which Ms. Candela met easily. But it was the dramatic aspect that captivated us.

We always feel super involved when the singer allows us to see the scene through his/her eyes and this is a skill at which Ms. Candela excels. We couldn't take our eyes off her face as she watched the virtual moon disappear behind virtual clouds and then reappear. It was all reflected in her face and we were transported. Soon, the occasional glances at the score will be unnecessary and there will be a stunning audition piece in her portfolio.

Baritone José Luis Maldonado is another singer who has been on our radar screen for some time. Again, it is not just his powerful instrument or refined technique that draw us in, it is his ability to create a living breathing and believable character.

Last night he gave us a livid Falstaff, berating Pistola and Bardolfo for defending their "honor" when he requested their services in delivering identical letters to Meg Page and Ann Ford. His Falstaff is larger than life, just as he should be. Every gesture, every facial expression, every variation of dynamics seemed spontaneously motivated by the text. Probably it takes a lot of work to seem so spontaneous!

He also performed Figaro's aria with uncanny ability to go from the lowest end of the register to a mincing falsetto top. He was perfectly flexible in Rossini's rapid patter section and we held our breath as he extended his held notes, evincing superlative breath control.

Elizaveta Kozlova, also well known to us from Mannes and IVAI, performed Pamina's Act II aria from Mozart's Die Zauberflöte--"Ach, ich fuhl's". She appropriately darkened her bright soprano instrument to reflect Pamina's despair and painted a sympathetic portrait of a woman who feels she has lost her lover. We noted a pleasing vibrato and some well negotiated descending scale passages.

We were happy to hear her second selection from Rimsky-Korsakov's The Snow Maiden. Of course Ms. Kozlova is totally comfortable in Russian which added to our pleasure. We enjoyed the opportunity to get reacquainted with this gem of a Russian fairytale which we so greatly enjoyed at Manhattan School of Music last year. There were some lovely melismatic passages to delight the ear.

Alexandra Lang is another singer we have been watching for a few years. Possessor of a generous dramatic soprano instrument and passionate acting skills, we have been unable/unwilling to pigeonhole her talent. Last night she performed Hélène's Act V aria from Verdi's Les vêpres siciliennes. There were some impressive vocal effects including a lovely liquid trill and a stunning climax.

New to us was soprano Manami Aoki who wanted to try out her French.  Alfred Bachelet's sensuous "Chère nuit" offered her an opportunity for a well modulated performance demonstrating warmth of tone and lovely phrasing. She also sang Micaëla's aria "Je dis que rien ne m'épouvant" which suited her voice and stature perfectly. The vibrato in her upper register was a joy to hear. The sound was Gallic and the small imperfections in the language can be readily improved.

Also new to us was soprano Catherine Swindle who sang "I am not my own" from Mark Adamo's Lysistrata. We always have a hard time overcoming our dislike for contemporary American opera and this is not the one to win us over. As Ms. Swindle explained to the audience, it is about a woman who refuses to abandon her anti-war stance. It is difficult to appreciate a voice singing in English and we wish Ms Swindle had chosen a different selection. We did not understand a lot of the words which so often happens with English. About all we could say is that we enjoyed her middle register. We would like to hear her again singing something in Italian!

Jason Wirth was the worthy accompanist for the evening and excelled at everything he undertook. We particularly enjoyed his spirited playing in the Verdi.

This is a finely designed showcase and we appreciated how each singer introduced her/himself and described the background of each aria.

© meche kroop

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