Thursday, December 1, 2022
Sunday, November 27, 2022
Manli Deng, Yohji Daquio, Hyunju Ha, Allison Deady, Madison Marie McIntosh, Elizveta Ulakhovich, Jingjing Qi, Caroline Corrales, Rose Kearin, and Samuel White
It's always an exciting event when the finals of a competition are open. We were delighted to have been invited to The Century Opera Voice Competition to hear ten fine young singers. The singers each led off with an aria of their own choosing; then the judges requested another aria from their lists of prepared arias, presumably to learn something new about the singer, perhaps facility in a different style or different language. We enjoyed this rounding out of the picture.
We do not envy the judges since each young singer offered something valuable. And so, we will not tell you, dear Reader, who won the prizes because they were, in our eyes (and ears) all winners! We will tell about the young artists in the order in which they appeared.
First on the program was soprano Rose Kearin who did justice to "Ach, ich liebte" from Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail, sung in good crisp German. We regretted missing Adelaide's Aria from Jonathan Dove's The Enchanted Pig, since we had never heard it before and might never have another opportunity.
Also superb in German was mezzo-soprano Allison Deady who gave a passionate delivery of Octavian's post-coital aria "Wie du warst!" from Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier. Equally fine in Italian, she sang "All'afflitto è dolce il pianto" from Donizetti's Roberto Devereux, meeting the fioritura challenge with grace.
We hadn't heard enough of soprano Caroline Corrales at the Santa Fe Opera when she sang Donna Elvira (in a nun's habit) so we were especially delighted to get a better "listen". Her sizable sound was perfect for Verdi and "Ernani, Ernani involami" was thrilling. Ms. Corrales is an emotional singer and Jenufa's prayer from the Janáček opera of the same name was stirring. We cannot comment on the language because we are completely ignorant of Czech.
"Stridono lassù" from Leoncavallo's Pagliacci is one of our favorite verismo arias and soprano Manli Deng created a lovely sound world including a delicate trilll. Massenet's Le Cid, however, is not well known by us, but Ms. Deng evinced some fine sounding French in "Pleurez, mes yeux". Her use of dynamics were effective in eliciting emotion.
"Chi il bel sogno di Doretta" from Puccini's La Rondine was a much better choice for soprano Jingjing Qi than "Sleeping Beauty" from Menotti's The Hero. It is difficult enough for native English speakers to sing musically in English! However, there was a heart-stopping decrescendo that tickled the ear.
Soprano Hyunju Ha invested "Ah, non credea mirarti" from Bellini's La Sonnambula with dynamic variety, fine fioritura, and an affecting vibrato. In the exposed passage without piano accompaniment we could appreciate the musicality of her phrasing. Although her second selection was not listed on the program, the choice of Sophie's "Rose Aria" from Der Rosenkavalier came as a delightful surprise, sung with wide-eyed innocence in fine German. They were good choices because they demonstrated her versatility.
Tenor Samuel White was the lone male on the program and he showed his stuff in the "Flower Aria" from Bizet's Carmen and an intense delivery of "Una parola sola..Or son sei mesi", Ramerrez' aria from Act II of Puccini's Fanciulla del West. Mr. White has a powerful voice and we longed to hear some tenderness in places.
We would like to hear soprano Elizveta Ulakhovich on another occasion. There is a lot o beauty of tone there but her choices did not seem suitable to us. Micaela's "Je dis que rien ne m'épouvant" from Bizet's Carmen requires a singer who can sound like an innocent country girl pushed to the limits of her fearfulness, a sense of "whistling in the dark". It wasn't there. Ms. Ulakhovich projects an air of confident glamor and we could think of far better material for her to sing.
Mezzo-soprano Madison Marie McIntosh, on the other hand, knows exactly where her strengths lay and how to play to them. She has a voice of unusual and exciting timbre with great flexibility in fioritura. "O mio Fernando" from Donizetti's La favorita is the perfect vehicle to show off her finely honed bel canto technique. The judges requested "Un'altra volta ancor" from Händel's Partenope which was just as splendidly performed; however, we would have much preferred to hear Waltraute's aria "Höre mir Sinn was ich dir sage" from Wagner's Götterdammerung. We hope we will have another opportunity.
Finally, soprano Yohji Daquio did get the opportunity to show off her versatility by performing two very different characters, the sprightly Marie from Donizetti's La fille du regiment showing her patriotism in "Salut a la France" with all its fabulous fioritura--and then meeting head on "I am the Wife of Mao Tse-Tung" from Adams' Nixon in China. This aria involves a lot of rage and repetition and it takes a gifted singer to make it interesting. She succeeded. We were floored.
© meche kroop
Sunday, November 20, 2022
Last night we attended a performance of Francesco Cavalli's l651 opera La Calisto, presented by Mannes Opera and directed most imaginatively by Emma Griffin. We don't know why all three opera conservatories in New York City chose to present a Baroque opera during the same time period; we thought we had had our fill and had no intention of writing another review. We only went to see the performance of a couple singers we admire. However, we were so taken with the production and the artistry of the singers and musicians that we feel compelled to share it with you, dear reader. If you read this too late to see it in person, we urge you to watch the livestream on December 2.
Saturday, November 19, 2022
Thursday, November 17, 2022
Saturday, November 12, 2022
Mary Beth Nelson and Shelén Hughes
Richard Pittsinger and Maggie Renée (Photo by Richard Termine)
Now that masking is optional, we have happily returned to reviewing performances at The Juilliard School and last night we saw TWO performances. The first one was a musically authentic production of a Händel opera in which the stellar Maestro Gary Thor Wedow led Juilliard 415, the schools principal period instrument ensemble, in a musically authentic reading of Atalanta. Thanks to some recent exposures to Baroque performances, we were not surprised by the presence of musicians onstage with the singers from time to time. As a matter of fact, the overture put trumpeter John Thiessen onstage and some excellent duets were heard with the woodwinds and theoborist/lutenist Dušan Balarin. Harpsichords were played by Mo. Wedow himself and David Belkovski,
Not only did Mo. Wedow draw such admirable performances from his orchestra, but the vocal values were equally dazzling. Soprano Shelén Hughes, whom we wrote about when she was a student at Manhattan School of Music, made a powerful Atalanta who is supposed to be a Princess disguised as a shepherdess named Amarilli. Ms. Hughes has a voice of notable flexibility and a strong stage presence.
As her beloved "Tirsi" (actually King Meleagro in shepherd disguise) we had the remarkable mezzo-soprano Mary Beth Nelson (whom we heard recently at the National Arts Club as Cenerentola) utilizing the same dazzling technique as she used in the Rossini.
Another mezzo-soprano Maggie Renée immersed herself totally in the role of Irene, aggressively tormenting the man who loves her in spite of some better advice by her father Nicandro (bass-baritone Donghoon Kang). Richard Pittsinger made an excellent Aminta who had such stunning vocal moments that we found ourself holding our breath.
The hit of the evening was baritone Jared Werlein (whom we wrote about enthusiastically in a freshman recital) who brought the opera to a close as Mercutio, about which more later. Keep reading!
So, what was the second performance we attended at Juilliard? Well, it was simultaneous with the one we just described! It was a Broadway show with a lavish set (by Ryan Howell) and striking costumes (by Ryan Park) with a crazy story having nothing to do with the libretto Händel chose on which to drape his fluent arias, of which there were many.
We completely understand that audiences of three centuries ago were enchanted by pastoral stories which could be rather boring for contemporary audiences. We have observed an unending series of performances of Händel's operas tricked out with beach chairs and umbrellas and all kinds of nonsense meant to engage a 21st c. audience. It seems like a lack of trust in the music to stage it so.
The theme of the story is how young people play games on the court of love. Our association was that of middle school students who fake disinterest in those on whom they are crushing and who try to make their crushes jealous by flirting with others. So we appreciate that there is room here for a "concept". Much as we dislike updating, audiences must be attracted or opera will die.
In this production, director Omer Ben Seadia's concept was a group of young people at some kind of music/art festival in the desert. An overhead sign on stage read "Bacchanalia". On stage left was a performing stage with drums that didn't get played until the final postlude with the fantastically costumed cast trying to disco dance to Baroque music. You can imagine!
On stage right was a food truck in which Aminta seemed well supplied with ingredients and a chef's knife which he wielded whilst singing, making us a bit nervous. When he and Irene finally get their games straightened out at the end of the opera they can be seen through frosted glass, presumably fornicating.
Irene seemed to be the one admitting outlandishly costumed participants to the festival, checking ID's and cell phones. But the platform shoes seemed more suggestive of the 70's. Does it matter? No one seemed to care but rather enjoyed the eye candy. But the story seemed shoehorned into Ms. Ben Seadia's concept. After the opera we read her Director's Note and can see where she was coming from. However, the stage business was so overdone that it distracted from the music. It seemed as if every important aria was overshadowed by someone moving furniture or performing some kind of acrobatic activity. There were times when we had to shut our eyes to hear the beauty of the voices.
We did promise to tell you about Mr. Werlein's performance since one might say he stole the show. In extravagant white drag and platform boots, his Mercurio sang about the blessings of love, reminding us that this work was created to celebrate a royal marriage between Frederick (son of George II) and Augusta of Saxe-Gotha. The bridal couple did not deign to attend the premiere which was anything but modest and involved a great deal of spectacle. Well, this 21st c. audience did not suffer from want of spectacle!
© meche kroop