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, April 4, 2024


Jiwon Park, Luna Seongeun Park, and Zhedong Ren

There is something so special about a vocal graduation recital. The young artists get to show off everything they have learned at the conservatory.  Generally, several languages are included as well as a variety of composers and styles. Last night, a sizable audience braved the storm to celebrate with the lovely soprano Luna Seongeun Park who is receiving her Master in Music degree from Mannes College of Music.  She chose well among her colleagues to join the celebration. There was excellent collaborative pianist Jiwon Park, violinist Joseph Jin who joined her for some charming Korean songs, and tenor Zhedong Ren who took the role of the seductive Duke in a duet from Verdi's Rigoletto.

But it was Ms. Park who was the star and centerpiece of the evening. Her tutelage at Mannes  (under the expert guidance of master teacher Arthur Levy) is coming to an end.  But just look at what this lovely young lady has in store. She has already been accepted at Juilliard Vocal Arts as a candidate for an Artists Diploma. She will be singing this summer at the Verbier Festival.  She has received many awards, including a substantial one from Opera Index.

The recital was not just an exciting event for Ms. Park and her parents, who flew in from Korea for the occasion. It was an artistic success and a worthwhile reward for those who braved the inclement weather. She opened with a trio of songs by Richard Strauss which well suited her brilliant soprano instrument. She tossed off the challenging notes at the upper register with abandon. Well, that was the effect, although we know how much serious study it involved. 

"Der Pokal" was performed with bright ringing tone and all of the excitement of a festive toast. In contrast, "Gl├╝ckes genug" was given a gentle romantic coloring. Our favorite was "Allerseelen" which, when well sung, as it was, fills us with a sweet melancholy. Ms. Park seemed to caress the initial consonants to great effect and employed dynamic variation to enhance the mood. It also offered the pianist a gorgeous introduction.

The songs of Clara Schumann should appear on more programs and we were glad to hear three of them. In "Die stille Lotosblume" she seemed to be completely immersed in the imagery of the song and we wondered if it were one of her favorites.

We have never seen Dominick Argento's opera Postcard from Morocco and, having read about it, probably never will. However, as a stand alone piece, "Lady with a Hand Mirror" offered Ms. Park an opportunity to create a humorous character and to use a very fine trill in the process.  We could envision this as a great encore piece.

Quatre chansons de jeunesse by Debussy reminded us of Impressionism combined with Surrealism. "Pantomime" was given a playful twist.  "Clair de lune" involved some impressive staccato passages. "Pierrot" gave the pianist an opportunity to play a familiar melody and gave the singer a lovely vocalise. We enjoyed the ecstatic "Apparition".

Violinist Joseph Jin joined the pair onstage for two sweet Korean art songs that were filled with tender plaintive melodies and produced the emotional state of sehnsucht, best translated perhaps as longing. The Korean language certainly sings beautifully, even if one doesn't understand the words. We suspect the composer Wonju Lee is contemporary because, as we have learned from other Korean singers, the tradition of art songs did not begin until after the Japanese occupation.

The final piece on the program was the Act I duet between the seductive Duke (sung by tenor Zhedong Ren) and the lovestruck Gilda. Mr. Ren's voice harmonized beautifully with Ms. Park's once he overcame her astonishment at his unexpected appearance and some shy reluctance. We enjoyed this duet so much and we wished Ms. Park had continued on with the "Caro nome". Well, that leaves us something to look forward to!

Of course, an encore was demanded by the audience and it was another lovely Korean song with the typical accessible melody, beautifully sung and accompanied by some stirring arpeggi in the piano. A fine ending to a lovely recital!

© meche kroop

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