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.

Monday, September 22, 2014


Musa Ngqungwana, Yunpeng Wang, Ashley Kerr, Shirin Eskandani, Rochelle Bard and Eve Queler

Could the season of vocal music have gotten off to a better start than the Musicians Emergency Fund recital at Alice Tully Hall?  We think not.  Maestra Eve Queler and her fine Opera Orchestra of New York served as background to showcase five superlative singers, all of whom we would happily listen to over and over again. The Opera Orchestra of New York has a long and venerable history in New York City, having presented over 100 operas in concert version and the Maestra has proven her worth, not only as a conductor, but as someone with a great ear for emerging stars. Similarly, the Musicians Emergency Fund has a history going back to the Great Depression and has also brought talent to the public's attention.

The five singers could not have been better chosen, nor could their material which, in each case, served to highlight the singer's special skills.  Let us begin with the sopranos.  Everything sung by Rochelle Bard was nothing short of sensational.  Her glamorous appearance served to augment her vocal skills as she portrayed the eponymous Tosca in Puccini's masterpiece. Her "Vissi d'arte" was deeply emotional and heart breaking.

In"Vivi,ingrato" from Donizetti's Roberto Devereux, her portrayal of an outraged and betrayed woman was so intense that the audience broke into wild applause before the cabaletta.  

This versatile young artist showed off the most beautiful legato in "D'amor sull' ali rosee" from Verdi's Il Trovatore, which ended in a thrilling trill.  As encore, she sang "The Vilja Song" from Franz Lehar's  The Merry Widow.

Soprano Ashley Kerr showed off a gorgeous instrument and an impressive French style in "Depuis le jour" from Charpentier's Louise.  She exhibited fine dynamic control and when she sang the word "delicieusement" we thought that was the perfect description of her manner of performing. 

In an entirely different style, she sang Donna Anna's aria "Non mi dir" from Mozart's Don Giovanni; her fioritura was just about perfect. In yet a different vein, she performed Musetta's aria "Quando m'en vo" from Puccini's La Boheme, always a great showpiece.  And "Song to the Moon" from Dvorak's Rusalka was another showstopper that revealed Ms. Kerr's seamless transitions throughout the registers.

Mezzo-soprano Shirin Eskandani turned in an excellent performance of "Non piu mesta" from Rossini's La Cenerentola; what made it a standout over other ones we have heard is that her fioritura seemed to emerge from deep within the generous character of the heroine, happy at last and ready to share her joy with everyone. And who wouldn't want to hear "Parto" from Mozart's La clemenza di Tito sung by such a talent.  We wanted to hear more!

There wasn't a tenor onstage but we never missed it because the two male singers were so outstanding.  Baritone Yunpeng Wang opened the program with "O Lisbon" from Donizetti's rarely heard Dom Sebastien which he sang in fine French, making every word clear, a great advantage since there were no translations.  Mr. Wang has a most pleasing tonal quality and ample coloring as he shifted from longing to passionate outbursts.

From Verdi's  La Traviata, his "Di Provenza il mar" was consummately persuasive, coming from a deep place of a father's anguish.  The legato line was a delight and had us wondering whether Mr. Wang is the Verdi baritone we have been waiting for.

Bass-baritone Musa Ngqungwana pleased us with one our favorite arias from Puccini's La Boheme.  In "Vecchia zimarra", Colline is bidding farewell to the beloved overcoat he is about to pawn to raise money for the dying Mimi's medicine. He sang this with superb dynamic control and deeply felt grief.

In another mood entirely, his "Serenade" from Gounod's Faust employed the desirable word coloring that makes the devil so chilling.  The "Ha, ha, ha, ha" made our hair stand on end.

His interpretation of Leporello's "Catalogue Aria" from Don Giovanni was original.  We are accustomed to a Leporello who is sick and tired of his master's hijinx and humorously ironic in this aria.  Mr. N. presented the character as serious, severe and nearly menacing.  It was difficult to evaluate presented as a stand-alone but it was surely well sung.

The final work on the program comprised a duet between Mr. N. and Mr. Wang.  "Suoni la tromba" from Bellini's I Puritani offers some delicious harmonies and long lyric phrases.  The voices blended well and all that was missing was some connection between the two artists.

Maestra Queler led her orchestra as well as we have come to expect and we heard some lovely solos emerging from the orchestra.  The wonderful thing about opera (well, ONE of the wonderful things) is that each time you hear an aria you hear something new.  Yesterday, for us, it was some beautiful clarinet work in the "Parto".

To have so much talent onstage in one afternoon felt like an embarrassment of riches.  But we are gluttons for pleasure.  It was like the old adage about champagne--even if you have an excess, you can never have enough.  And if you didn't leave this recital walking on air, you must have been wearing cement shoes!

(c) meche kroop

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