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.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


Pierre Ferreyra-Mansilla, Nathan Haller, Angela Vallone, Brian Zeger, Jessine Johnson, Samantha Hankey, Eric Jurenas
A Juilliard Songfest last night at Alice Tully Hall offered an opportunity to get your fill of Benjamin Britten's songs, curated by Artistic Director Brian Zeger who also lent his prodigious talent as collaborative pianist.  The ten singers are in various stages of training at the Marcus Institute for Vocal Arts but we dare you to distinguish between the graduate students and the undergraduates; all have superb voices and stage presence to spare.

The opening piece on the program turned out to be our personal favorite, the 1952 Canticle II: Abraham and Isaac, Op. 51.  We first heard this work a year ago at Chelsea Opera in a fully staged and costumed version with young Benjamin Perry Wenzelberg doing more than justice to the role of the young Isaac about to be sacrificed by his father.  Tonight in this role we heard counter-tenor Eric Jurenas with tenor Miles Mykkanen as Abraham in a semi-staged performance that worked beautifully, both vocally and dramatically.  The most arresting singing was the voice of God produced by the two men singing in the most amazing unison.

The other major work on the program comprised Songs and Proverbs of William Blake, written in 1965 for Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
1965.  Last night this vocally demanding material was finely handled by two exemplary baritones--Theo Hoffman whose fine work is familiar to us and Kurt Kanazawa whom we had never heard before but look forward to hearing again.

The remainder of the program consisted of a grouping of sorrowful folk songs and a grouping of joyful ones.  We particularly liked tenor William Goforth's connection with the text in "At the mid hour of night" and Mr. Kanazawa's humorous complaint "Lord! I married me a wife". Tenor Nathan Haller gave a moving performance of "The Children".  Tenor Michael St. Peter demonstrated a lovely vocal quality in the strophic "O Waly, Waly", standing out against the chordal accompaniment.

In the set of joyful songs, we particularly enjoyed Mr. Haller's performance of "Bonny at Morn".  Mr. Jurenas' performance of "The Miller of Dee" was set against piano work by Mr. Zeger that left no doubt that mill wheels were turning.  Mr. St. Peter's strophic "Plough Boy" was pure delight.

Several songs were accompanied by the guitar of Pierre Ferreyra-Mansilla who seemed to have a very personal relationship with his instrument.  Our favorite was the jaunty "Sailor Boy" sung by Mr. Haller.  The program was not entirely male; sopranos Jessine Johnson and Angela Vallone and mezzo Samantha Hankey made valuable contributions to both groups of folk songs.  Ms. Vallone sang "The Big Chariot" and "How sweet the answer". The closing number of the evening was a duet "Underneath the Abject Willow" performed by Ms. Johnson and Ms. Hankey.  Their voices blended splendidly and y'all know how much we love duets!

If you didn't get your fill of Britten last night, don't despair.  It's his centennial and you will have many more opportunities.

© meche kroop

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