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, May 3, 2024


 Arlene Shrut, Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen, Yeongtaek Yang, Matthew Cairns, Tatev Baroyan, Karoline Podolak, Shelen Hughes, Rosario Armas, Gemma Nha, and Anna Kelly

Thanks to the generosity of philanthropist Gerda Lissner, several generations of opera singers have been supported in their artistic growth. In addition, citizens of Planet Opera were gifted a thrilling evening of impressive singing at Zankel Hall.  Out of 300 presumably worthy applicants, ten winners were selected to perform and were the fortunate recipients of 95 thousand dollars. No, Dear Reader, you will not learn their ranking here. That is the difficult and unenviable task of the judges. Our "task" is to share our impressions.

It is particularly rewarding for us to witness the success of singers we have followed throughout their conservatory years; it is astonishing to catch up with the dramatic artistic growth of those who left New York City and haven't been heard by us for some time; it is exciting to discover artists who are new to us. It is also a delight to experience the gracious hosting of Midge Woolsey who made up for the lack of titles and translations by giving a brief synopsis of each selection. And finally, it is always a pleasure to see how pianist Arlene Shrut manages to switch genres and styles with ease, giving the young singers the collaboration and accompaniment they deserve.

It seemed to us that the audience comprised people who know and love opera, lieder, art song and zarzuela, all of which were represented in the award categories No one distracted other audience members. Everyone listened with rapt attention and applauded generously and enthusiastically--and never at inopportune times. 

Speaking of applause, it made us deliriously happy to hear the audience going wild over the zarzuela selection sung with consummately professional style by mezzo-soprano Rosario Armas. Regular readers know how highly we value this art form and how we always jump at the chance to attend a performance.  The selection that Ms. Armas chose was from Chapi's humorous Las Hijas del Zebedeo. Every gesture was on point and Ms. Armas used her rich expressive voice to create a character.

In a similarly light-hearted mood, soprano Shelén Hughes charmed us with a selection from Victor Herbert's operetta "Mlle. Modiste" which we sadly missed when Victor Herbert Renaissance Project Live! presented it. It is a fine achievement when a singer is so secure in her technique and so well rehearsed that the performance seems spontaneous and very much "of the moment".

A coloratura soprano named Caroline Podolak gave a stunning performance of "Glitter and Be Gay" from Leonard Bernstein's Candide, giving the song just the right amount of humor as Cunegonde alternates between the shame of her status (which you all know) and the pleasure of receiving expensive jewelry. The high tessitura presented no challenge for her and the vocal effects were sensational. To add to the performance, this beautiful blond looked the part.

Similarly, mezzo-soprano Maire Therese Carmack looked and sounded exactly the way one would wish for the daughter of Wotan as she performed "Du bist der Lenz" from the first act of Wagner's Die Walküre. The entire setting of the Otto Schenk version (the only one that made sense to us) appeared in our mind's eye--always a sign of a great performance.

Soprano Tatev Baroyan gave a lovely and affecting performance as Liu, singing "Tu, che di gel sei cinta" from Puccini's Turandot. Mezzo-soprano Anna Kelly employed a sweet tone and personal charm in a Joseph Marx lied entitled "Jugend und Alter".  Soprano Gemma Nha performed Joowon Kim's "Like the Wind That Met with Lotus" with a haunting feeling and ringing top notes.

And now, let us get to the men. Guest artist counter-tenor Anthony Ross Costanzo delivered an inspiring "speechlet" about Orfeo and the power of music and then involved the audience in his performance of a scene from 
Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice (in which he is starring at The Metropolitan Opera) which everyone seemed to enjoy.

Counter-tenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen was definitely not overshadowed by Mr. Costanzo's fame and performed two Händel arias, a deeply felt "Stille Amare" from Tolomeo and the spirited "Empio, dirò , tu sei" from Giulio Cesare in Egitto in which he dazzled us with fiery fioritura.

Yeongtaek Yang used his gorgeous baritone instrument to create a highly involving introduction to Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci, bringing Tonio to vivid life. It felt so real that we nearly forgot where we were and were waiting for the opera to begin!

Tenor Matthew Cairns has a sizable voice with an interesting texture and fine French diction that he brought to "Ô Paradis sorti de l'onde" from Meyerbeer's L'Africaine.

What a wonderful evening--a gathering of the tribe joining to celebrate young artists. May they all achieve the professional success that they deserve!

© meche kroop

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