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.

Sunday, March 31, 2024


 Kanae Matsumoto Giampietro and Scott Rubén La Marca

There is something so healing about beautiful singing! We entered Ades Performance Space at Manhattan School of Music, windblown and weatherbeaten. In less than two hours we felt suffused with warmth and cheer. Is this a response to the stimulation of chakras or simply our appreciation of a tender tenor voice? We know not, but we were glad we made the effort to brave the elements.

It was an altogether satisfying recital with several thrilling moments and not a single unfortunate one. Scott Rubén La Marca curated the perfect recital to show off his artistry in several languages. We even enjoyed the English selections! We have been following this artist for some time and was impressed by his artistic growth. The concert was given to satisfy the requirements of a Master of Music Degree but could easily have been presented at any concert hall in New York City.

The program began with a pair of canzoni right out of the "24 Italian Songs and Arias" book, often given to students as they begin their vocal instruction. You could be forgiven for expecting them to be basic but you would have been surprised by the subtleties of dynamics and coloration in the romantic "Alma del core" by Calandra and the spirited "Danza fanciulla danza" by Durante. It was like hearing them for the first time! The more modern Tosti song "Aprile" was a seasonal delight, given an expansive performance.

The part of the concert that touched us the most was the pair of songs drawn from Schubert's cycle Die Schöne Müllerin. Now here we have a highly opinionated comment to make. We would argue against the "received wisdom" that this cycle should not be tackled until a singer is "mature".  NO! This is a young man's journey and when one is "mature" one can barely remember what it feels like to be infatuated for the first time and how every glance and word of the love object is profoundly affecting. When one is mature one learns how to deal with romantic disappointment. 

And so Mr. La Marca sang these songs as if he were living (or re-living) the experience. In "Am Feierabend" the poet (Wilhelm Müller) has finished his day's work as an apprentice in the mill and joins his boss and the boss' daughter at the fireside. He is totally fixated on the girl and wants so badly to be noticed.

In "Der Neugierige" he confesses his anxiety to a brook and here the sounds of the brook, so aptly created by the composer, were stunningly recreated by collaborative pianist Kanae Matsumoto Giampietro. 

Beethoven's songs are rarely performed in recital and Mr. La Marca's selection  of "Adelaide" was the perfect choice. We've heard musicologist claim that Beethoven was not a good melodist but this song is touching in the directness and simplicity of its melody and was sung with convincing ardor and in good German.

There were also French melodies on the program--"Soir" and "Toujours" by Fauré and Duparc's "Chanson Triste", all sung with Gallic delicacy. It was in the gentle "Soir" that we noticed the most exquisite decrescendo at the end which was drawn out like a fine thread of silk until barely audible.  It was truly a breath holding moment for the audience and a feat of breath control by the singer.

Listening to Quilter's "O Mistress Mine", we realized that a good song in English must obey the dictates of the rhythm of the English language. Shakespeare's iambic pentameter gave the composer some great text to set and Mr. La Marca made every word count.

The evening ended with a set of Spanish songs that delighted the ear. Regular readers know how much we admire Latin American compositions and how singable we find the Spanish language. The Ecuadorian composer Gerardo Guevara (still living, we believe) composed the lovely "Despedido" with a rhythmic piano introduction, giving Ms. Giampietro a chance to shine and making us feel like dancing. The Pasillo is a dance form popular in Ecuador and just bursting with Latin American flavor and immediacy.

We first learned of the Argentinian composer Carlos Lopez Buchardo through Steven Blier's concerts and it was fun to recognize his soulful "Los Puñalitos" which Mr. La Marca recently sang at the New York Festival of Song. 

The final set by Turina took us from the Latin American dance floor to the concert halls of Spain with the cycle Poema en forma de canciones comprising art songs that appear regularly in vocal programs. We particularly enjoyed the vocalise which introduced and concluded "Cantares" and the irony of "Los dos miedos" and "Las locas por amor".

We have not said much about Mr. La Marca's technique which is so fine that it faded into the background, allowing us to focus on his interpretive skills and his complete immersion in the music and text. He is the type of singer that draws one into the world of the song. What a fine place to be!

© meche kroop

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