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, November 20, 2021


 Eugenia Forteza, Zoya Gramagin, Mikhail Urusov, and Pavel Suliandziga

The charming theatre of St. Nicholas Cathedral was filled last night with lovers of Russian music. The varied program included operatic arias, art songs, and piano solos and duets. There was something for everyone! We were welcomed by Natalie Burlutskaya of Spotlight Artists Management as well as a pair of Patriarchs, one of whom welcomed us in Russian and the other in English. 

The Chamber Chorus of the Cathedral both opened and closed the program. Sadly, we do not know what they were singing about but the harmonies were exquisite and delivered with commitment and sincerity.

Tchaikovsky got a great deal of attention with several selections from his opera Queen of Spades and Lensky's aria "Kuda, kuda" from Eugene Onegin, sensitively rendered by tenor Pavel Suliandziga. This must be his signature piece since we have heard him sing it several times. The young Lensky, in a trap of his own making, faces the upcoming duel with his friend Onegin and muses upon life and death.  What was a bit new this time (or maybe we hadn't observed it before) was the intensity with which Mr. Suliandziga sustained the feeling in the postlude, emphasizing the sorrow. There was also a diminuendo toward the end that was gracefully rendered. The performance elicited great sympathy for Lensky. "How misguided are the young" we thought, "making foolish and impetuous choices". 

The selections from Queen of Spades were performed by sopranos Zoya Gramagin as Lisa and Eugenia Forteza as Polina and tenor Mikhail Urusov. The two women have very different voices and our favorite piece was their duet. We do believe that the role of Polina was written for a contralto but I heard no evidence of strain; it was just two voices of two friends in emotional concert. This worked in spite of the fact that Ms. Gramagin has a huge dramatic soprano and Ms. Forteza a gentle lyric soprano. We admired Ms. Gramagin's ability to reign in some of the power allowing Ms. Forteza's gentle spirit to shine. Ms. Forteza's solo aria could not have been better.

Ms. Gramagin certainly did have the opportunity to let out all the stops in Lisa's Arioso which was powerful and affecting. Similarly, in her duet with Mr. Urosov later in the program, she scaled her voice to match his huge sound and did not allow herself to be eclipsed.

Mr. Urosov made a powerful and frantic Hermann in both his solos. At times we found ourself wishing he would scale his voice to the room and allow other softer colors into his voice. Some contrast would have been welcome.

The art song portion of the program gave him and Ms. Gramagin another opportunity to perform a duet in Glinka's "Oh, do not tempt me without reason".

Mr. Suliandziga gave a lovely sweet performance of Tchaikovky's "Serenade" and Ms. Gramagin lent her impressive artistry to Rachmaninoff's "I am no prophet" and Tchaikovsky's "Whether day dawns" which, coincidentally, Mr. Suliandziga performed about 2 years ago at Around the World in Song.

As if all that gorgeous music wasn't enough, we also heard some wonderful piano pieces--a four-handed version of "Waltz of the Flowers" from Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker, reminding us of our youthful passion for ballet. This was performed by Raina Wang in the treble position and Nikita  Stepanenko in the bass position. Mr. Stepanenko also performed Rachmaninoff's "Etude-Tableau Op.33 #6".

Rachmaninoff's "Prelude Op.23 No. 2" was offered by Alexander Chaplinskiy. It is always a pleasure to hear a collaborative pianist show off their solo skills. If only the piano had been of better quality, we would have enjoyed it even more.

Although we have always loved Russian instrumental music, we confess we didn't appreciate Russian vocal music until we started writing about it.  Now, we cannot get enough of it!

© meche kroop

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