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.

Monday, January 22, 2024


 Tenor Matthew Polenzani

It is surely a capstone of one's career to be publicly honored with an award, especially one from Opera Index. It is perhaps a more private honor to witness the next generation of singers, knowing how many have learned from you, directly or indirectly. Mr. Polenzani, a much loved tenor, is at the peak of his brilliant career and his gracious unassuming manner must be an inspiration to upcoming opera singers.

The occasion was last night's Opera Index Gala, at which event the denizens of Planet Opera gather every year to honor a distinguished artist and to celebrate the prizewinners of their competition. Unlike open competitions at which observers form their own opinions and argue the merits of their favorite singers, Opera Index's competition takes place behind closed doors. 

We think it fair to say that this year's winners were well selected from among 400 applicants and are totally deserving of their awards. Singers are notoriously financially strapped, what with the cost of lessons, tuition, coaching and such. Those donating funds to Opera Index can be confident that their funding goes a long way toward helping these young artists to achieve their goals.

We heard seven promising young artists artists last night, all outstanding in their own way. Piano support was provided by the well known collaborative pianist Kamal Khan who slides gracefully from one period of music to the next. A warm welcome by Opera Index President Jane Shaulis, who put together a most satisfying. evening, was warmly received. Let us tell you about it without reference to the size of  each individual's award, as is our wont.

The program opened with baritone Ben Reisinger performing everyone's favorite drinking song "O vin, dissippe la tristesse" from Thomas' Hamlet. Glass in hand, he illustrated the character's exuberance with a lovely resonant texture, fine phrasing and sufficient variety of tempi  to hold our interest. We love the way his voice opens up at the upper end  of the register.

Following, we heard the adorable soprano Sofia Gotch singing "Je veux vivre" from Gounod's Romeo et Juliette. She conveyed all the breathless enthusiasm (which takes enormous breath control) of a young woman bursting with life. She paced the aria well and evinced bright clean top notes. There were some trills that gave us thrills and chills! The command of the French style and diction were remarkable.

Tenor Travon Walker began his performance seated on the edge of the stage, accurately reflecting the despair of young Sam in "Lonely House" from Kurt Weill's 20th c. opera Street Scene. Mr. Walker, having established the mood of his character, proceeded to get up and walk around, delivering his aria with fine technique and (gasp) understandable English. We enjoyed the way he used dynamic variation and felt emotionally affected--a good thing.

It is quite a challenge for any young singer to portray an older person but bass Younggwang Park achieved it in his performance of "Vi ravisso", Count Rodolfo's nostalgic aria from Bellini's La sonnambula. We sensed a connection with the depth of the character as much as we perceived the depth of tone. As is common in Bellini's writing, the demands on the singer are vocally great, especially in terms of the breath control needed for his long lyric phrases. Mr. Park handled it deftly, especially in the runs.

Soprano Luna Seongeun Park (no relation) gave a spirited performance of "Chacun le sait", the regimental song from Donizetti's La fille du regiment in which Marie, the titular character, expresses her pride in the regiment that has raised her. We observed a consistency through the registers, culminating in a pure tone at the top. We liked the smoothness in negotiating the portamenti.

Bass-baritone Byeongmin Gil proved himself to be a forceful interpreter of Procido's joy at returning to his beloved homeland after a period of exile in "O tu Palermo" from Verdi's I vespri Siciliani. Variety in dynamics and a keen sense of pacing did justice to this showpiece. The texture of Gil's voice created a sound that was sufficiently mature.

Closing the musical portion of the evening was Yeongtaek Yang's impassioned delivery of "Nemico della patria" from Giordano's Andrea Chenier. He effectively portrayed Gérard's cold calculating nature as he lists the accusations toward Chenier, accusations that he may not truly believe. The sound was full and the menace was palpable.  Mr. Yang built the emotion to an intense crescendo at the end.

This fulfilling program was followed by the award ceremony and dinner. This was indeed a memorable night! We might close by urging you to join Opera Index in supporting these gifted young artists. The membership fee is extremely modest.

© meche kroop

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