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.

Friday, February 16, 2024



Nicholas Kaponyas and Yohji Daquio

Last night's brilliant recital at the Kosciuszko Foundation was warmly introduced by Ewa Zadworna who spoke briefly about the good works of the foundation, named after the Revolutionary War hero who gave extraordinary help to the new colonies as they broke free of Great Britain. This reminded us of how dedicated Poland has been to the Ukrainian cause. We prefer to discuss music and not politics but for years we have admired Kosciuszko's portrait which hangs in the place of honor in the second floor space which has been home to so much fine music over the years. The foundation is celebrating their centennial, so cheers to the next hundred years.

Of all the recitals we have heard in that elegant historic brownstone, we cannot remember a better one than the one we heard last night in which a marvelous pianist collaborated with the scintillating soprano Yohji Daquio for a stunning hour of vocal music that left us feeling the same satisfaction we experience after a gourmet meal of artfully arranged small courses, leaving us smiling and satisfied and eager to return for more.

In a world of superlative sopranos, Ms. Daquio stands out for perfect technique that never calls attention to itself but allows the listener to feel her involvement with both text and music, bringing each selection to vivid colorful life. The performing area of the space offers plenty of room for a singer to move in and Ms. Daquio took advantage of it. She has a vibrant personality and knows how to use gesture, bodily posture, and facial expression to fill out the intention of each selection.

She entered the performance space singing "Je veux vivre" from Gounod's Romeo et Juliette which we have heard her sing on prior occasions. It just keeps getting better! We loved the way she limned the fleeting moments of sorrow peeking out from behind Juliette's joy of being young and alive. The contrast was achieved by means of variation in color and dynamics. We have no doubt that every phrase had been studied and practiced, but the final impression was one of spontaneity.  Now that's art!

Similarly, in "Regnava nel  silenzio", Lucia's entrance aria from Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, she gave the character lots of room to breathe, to fear, to hallucinate. We could see the spooky vision through Lucia's eyes and feel the change in her mood as she thought of Edgardo, her beloved. Again, the artist used variation of color and dynamics to lend emphasis to the daring fioritura which was stunningly precise in execution..

This precision was also notable in "Der Hölle Rache" from Mozart's Die Zauberflöte, a point in which the audience realizes that this "doting mother" is not what she seems but an angry vengeful woman. We have our own ideas but never mind, this is what Mozart wrote and Ms. Daquio captured every bit of rage with pinpoint accuracy. These are the coloratura moments that make an audience swoon, and swoon we did. If anyone in the standing-room-only audience was new to opera, they are surely devoted fans by now.

In a sweeter vein was the much loved "O mio babbino caro" from Puccini's Gianni Schicchi. No father could have resisted her blandishments and Ms. Daquio perfectly enacted a perfectly spoiled daughter.

A pleasant surprise was Constancio de Guzman's "Bayan Ko!", a sad love letter to her colonized homeland (The Republic of the Philippines) sung in Tagalog, which seems to be a beautiful language, at least coming from Ms. Daquio. The melody was a lovely one and Ms. Daquio sang it with the requisite sincerity.

Yet another treat was the artist's original take on "Poor Wand'ring One" sung by Mabel to Frederic in Gilbert and Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance. In spite of the difficulty of diction in the soprano range, every one of Gilbert's words were crystal clear and the audience loved the way Ms. Daquio involved them.  The song is a bid for love and the the audience responded fully and joyfully.

Come to think of it, the audience was involved from the beginning since she introduced each song and aria in a most unaffected manor, recapitulating the mood of a salon.

Her facility with French was evident in a pair of Poulenc songs but the use of a music stand interfered with her ability to emote. Texts by Louis Aragon are clearly anti-war, written in 1943, during the German occupation. "C" is mournful and "Fêtes Galantes" rather frantic.

Collaborative pianist for the evening was Nicholas Kaponyas and his artistry was never overshadowed. He began the evening with a pleasing performance of Chopin's Waltz in G-flat major Opus 70, #1. This was charmingly played with even more rubato than is customary with some breath-holding moments. We liked it a lot more than the modern piece by Grażyna Bacewicz--the Vivo movement of Piano Sonata #2 which appeared devilishly difficult to play with lots of percussive themes and a dense texture.

The encores were well chosen--Isabelle Aboulker's "Je t'aime"--("Vocalise amoureuse pour Soprano éperdue") and "Love is Where You Find It" composed for the 1948 film The Kissing Bandit, written by Ignacio (colloquially, Nacio) Herb Brown.  This was a clever pairing for post-Valentine's Day, the first a tantrum by a rejected woman and the second a paean to love.

Ms. Daquio has earned our love and admiration. We have the highest expectations of this young artist who has already garnered many awards and prizes.

© meche kroop

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