Donata D'Annunzio Lombardi and John Viscardi
On Wednesday evening we were privileged to attend Classic Lyric Arts' "Concert at the Castle" along with a crowd of CLA Supporters, all of whom were delighted to witness the past, present, and future of this estimable program. A warm welcome from Founder and Artistic Director Glenn Morton, well known in operatic circles for his astute coaching and pedagogy in all three NYC music conservatories, introduced us to the myriad achievements of CLA--not only the immersive programs in Italy and France but the newly initiated program in the Berkshires which began last summer, focusing on the operas of Mozart.
Representing the past of CLA was tenor John Viscardi, a major light on American opera stages, who serves as Executive Director of CLA. Mr. Viscardi is an alumnus of both CLA's French program and Italian program; his linguistic facility gives evidence. He opened the concert program with the tender "Chanson Triste" by Duparc. The performance was marked by perfect French diction (of course) and consummate expressiveness, alternating tender moments with expansive ones. He also closed the program performing a stunning duet with a surprise guest artist; we are going to keep you guessing her identity until the end of the review.
Another alumna of CLA is the lovely Daniela Magura, a beautiful mezzo-soprano with a luscious tone. She showed off her fine French in "Tristes apprêts", an aria from Rameau's Castor et Pollux that was new to our ears. Her "Habanera" from Bizet's Carmen, on the other hand, is almost overly familiar but we always enjoy hearing a singer whose take on the character is a bit different. Ms. Magura's Carmen is more subtle than most, so confident in her ability to seduce that she can underplay it, thereby avoiding all the encrusted clichés. What an advantage to hear her diversity in two such different arias and to hear French sung so authentically in Gallic style. More credit to CLA's French program which she attended twice.
Baritone Jared Werlein is new to us and we are always happy to hear a singer with comedic flair. He is a student of Mr. Morton at Juilliard and his fluency in Italian surely comes from his prior attendance at CLA's Italian program. We were able to appreciate his ability to go from the well-known classic ("Madamina, il catalogo è questo" from Mozart's Don Giovanni) to a delightful 20th c British song, "The green-eyed dragon" by Wolseley Charles. The lyrics were so clever in their rhymes and the music so tuneful that we plan to search out more of Mr. Charles' music. Mr. Werlein did justice to both styles, more evidence of the versatility that we admire.
Tenor Michael McDermott, another student of Mr. Morton at Juilliard, also chose two very different pieces. His Italian selection was the well known and beloved Tosti song "Non t'amo piu" which he sang with Italianate passion and the multiplicity of emotions that the librettist intended. His use of pacing and dynamic variation brought intensity to the performance. Quite different was his more delicate delivery of "Ah, lève-toi soleil" from Gounod's Roméo et Juliette in which he showed an easily produced upper register and pleasing French which will be fine tuned this coming summer at CLA's French program.
New to CLA and representing its future is the beautiful soprano Julianne Casey who also alternated a French selection with an Italian one. "Il est doux, il est bon" from Massenet's Hérodiade was sung with youthful rapture and some lovely resonance in the upper register. We liked the expansive top in "Se come voi piccina" from Le Villi, an early opera by Puccini with which we are unfamiliar. We cannot wait to hear her after her attendance at CLA's Italian program next summer.
And now we will tell you dear reader, as promised, about the stunning surprise climax to the program. One of Europe's most sought after sopranos, Donata D'Annunzio Lombardi, performed the role of Tosca in the first act duet, with Mr. Viscardi as her Mario. We found ourselves captivated not only by the vocal excellence but by the characterization given by Ms. D'Annunzio. We felt as if we really understood Tosca, not only her devotion to Mario but the insecurity that underlay her display of jealousy and the good will that allowed her to turn the jealousy into a little tease.
Ms. D'Annunzio Lombardi is on the faculty of CLA and brings to their programs a very unusual method of teaching, the likes of which we have never seen. Suffice it to say that the changes wrought by her tutelage have been astonishing. We have the greatest respect for results and for those master teachers that add value. Students can consider themselves extremely fortunate to fall into her hands.
The collaborative pianist for the evening was the gifted Xu Cheng who never fails to keep pace with the singers and permits all of them to shine in their own fashion.
We advise keeping an eye on Classic Lyric Arts. Their history is significantly worthwhile, their present shows the flexibility demanded by the Covid pandemic, and they have a brilliant future as they expand in new ways, some of which are in the works and some of which we foresee in our crystal ball.
If you, dear reader, care to see photos of the event, they will be on our FB page--Voce di Meche.
© meche kroop