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.

Thursday, March 7, 2024



Curtain Call at Classic Lyric Arts Concert

Just as we love watching young singers develop their artistry, we love watching an institution grow in ambition, reach, scope, and impact. We have been watching Classic Lyric Arts grow for a number of years and attended their gala soirées at The Kosciuszko Foundation. We have been introduced to so many fine young singers and have interviewed them about their experiences at the immersive summer programs in Italy and in France. We have watched them expand their summer programs to include an intensive exploration of Mozart operas in the Berkshires. We have heard nothing but enthusiasm and never heard a word of disappointment.

We have also witnessed the growth of their faculty to include master teacher of dramatic arts Daniel Isengart.  Founder and Artistic Director Glenn Morton is a highly esteemed faculty member of all three music conservatories in New York. The Executive Director John Viscardi was one of their first graduates of CLA Italy in 2009. Enjoying a brilliant worldwide career himself, he is in a unique position to guide young artists toward professional success.

Mr. Isengart, resident stage director and performance coach for CLA, has enjoyed a brilliant career performing cabaret, teaching, and coaching. We have been fortunate enough to observe his coaching, watching singers embellish their performances by means of imagination and involvement.

Last night, in celebration of their 15th anniversary, CLA presented a concert at Merkin Hall of the Kaufman Music Center. An announcement was made that brought us enormous joy. CLA is expanding yet again and initiating a year round academy which will help bridge conservatory training and professional careers for emerging singers.

By now, Dear Reader, you are probably impatient to hear about the concert itself and we will not disappoint you. Everyone onstage was connected with Mr. Morton as a former student, current student, or future student. To inspire the young singers we had performances of two stars of the worldwide stage, both "on loan" from The Metropolitan Opera and both accompanied by Mr. Morton.

Could anyone portray a more beguiling daughter working on her father than Nadine Sierra performing "O mio babino caro" from Puccini's Gianni Schicchi! We loved the way she extended and colored the "pietà".

Tenor SeokJong Baek thrilled the audience with his "Nessun dorma" from Puccini's Turandot. We loved his pianissimo and the manner in which he grew the sound to a dramatic conclusion. 

A highlight of the evening was a chorale work conducted by Michael Sheetz  in which everyone participated. It was the New York premiere of  Le parole dei mesi composed by Raphael Fusco who is on the faculty of CLA Italy. Thankfully, Mr. Fusco was unaffected by the awful tendencies of contemporary composition. The work was gloriously melodic and  had twelve sections, one for each month and involved a delightful interweaving of vocal lines for each fach and sufficient variety to hold one's interest from capo to fine. 

We would love to tell you about all of the sixteen scenes but let us focus instead on the overall picture, created by Mr. Isengart. The young artists entered the stage in pairs or triplets, a few at a time and took up positions that were visually interesting and fluid.  Some sat, some stood. Their attention was directed unwaveringly toward whomever was performing. This focus served to increase the focus of the audience as well.

Since all of the performances achieved excellence it is difficult to choose just a few to illustrate the dramatic impact of the staging but we will try, hoping that none of the dozens of singers participating will feel slighted.

In. "Dunque io son" from Rossini'a Il barbiere di Siviglia, soprano Sarah Fleiss showed great spunk as the wily Rosina, confronting her "jailer" Bartolo played by Jared Bybee. When the scenery and costumes appear in your mind's eye we know the singers are "doing it right".  And this pair succeeded.

The intimate connection between Norina (Yvette Keong) and Ernesto (Philippe L'Esperance) in Donizetti's Don Pasquale was deliciously convincing.

Whilst soprano Eliza Masewicz and mezzo-soprano Monique Galvao were performing the exquisite duet "Dôme épais" from Delibes' Lakme, the facial expression and body language told us everything we needed to know about the warm relationship between the two women.

We must mention the perfect French diction of Sara Stevens and John Viscardi expressing the ecstasy  of "Nous vivrons à Paris"  from Massenet's Manon.

The staging for the famous quartet of Verdi's Rigoletto was particularly well done. We have heard this quartet too many times so it was a distinct pleasure to be shown an iteration that held our interest. Soprano Sofia Gotch, stood on a chair as if she were peering through a window watching the seductive Maddalena (Ms. Galvao) working her womanly wiles on the all too receptive Duke (Mr. L'Esperance) whilst Rigoletto (Suchan Kim) shares her pain, plus anger of his own. 

There were three scenes from Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffmann, all well staged. The one that lingers in our mind is from the act in which Antonia's mother (mezzo-soprano Alexandra Olson Andersen) is presented as a spirit, standing on a chair with a veil over her head, urging her daughter (soprano Sara Mortensen) to sing.  Of course, her image has been conjured by the evil Dr. Miracle (Mr. Kim). Antonia collapses dead into the arms of two men and is carried offstage. Very powerful!

Another scene from the same opera involved the famous barcarolle "Belle nuit", gorgeously sung by soprano Maia Sumanaweera and mezzo-soprano Rosario Armas, alumni of CLA.

We have run out of room but must mention the scene from Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro in which the suspicious Count (baritone Kevin Douglas Jasaitis) gets outwitted by the clever Susanna (Temple Hammen). and his flustered wife (Johanna Will). Mr. Isengart's staging made full use of the playing area and made it easy to imagine the locked closet and all the shenanigans.

We must here mention the marvelous accompaniment by several pianists in "tag team" mode (Luc Xu Cheng, Shaobai Yuan, Lana Norris, Javor Bračic, Marianna Vartikian, Michael Sheetz, Hong Ziyi, Zihan Wang, and Vladimir Soloviev, reminding us that CLA also trains collaborative pianists!

We always have a quibble. We wanted a second act!!!!  The 90 minute program whetted our appetite for more. We own the sin of greed. We hope. there won't be too long a wait for another concert in which CLA can show off their latest success.

© meche kroop

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