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.
The memory of this fine tenor lives on by virtue of the admirable work of The Giulio Gari Foundation; they provide awards, grants and performance opportunities to young singers on the cusp of major careers. Few opera goers acknowledge the intense hard work that goes into career development and the high cost of lessons and coaching. We witness the end results and neglect the means. It was up to Stephen De Maio and Licia Albanese to get together with Gloria Gari to honor Mr. Gari's memory in the best way possible, ensuring that the baton will be passed to younger generations.
The Giulio Gari Foundation presented their awards yesterday to as fine a group of young singers as we have heard. As a matter of fact we have been fortunate enough to have heard many of them before and were thrilled to have the opportunity to hear them again. . The winners we heard deserve every accolade they received. The foundation chose wisely and well; needless to say, each singer chose his/her material wisely and well, with an eye to showing off his/her own particular vocal range and style. Piano partners Arlene Shrut and Mikhail Hallak partnered the singers with panache and versatility.
First prize winner Marina Costa-Jackson was saved for last. Without drawing any comparisons, let us just say that her family has astonishing musical genes which, along with dedication and hard work, resulted in a stirring performance of "Stridono lassu" from Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci; her gorgeous soprano evoked the flight of birds so envied by Nedda whose life is constrained, to say the least. As she began, her rich low notes suggested those of a mezzo but then her voice soared into the sky with the most gorgeous vibrato and top notes.
Second prizes were won by Michelle Johnson and Chloe Moore, both sopranos. Ms. Johnson sang "Io son l'umile ancella" from Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur and caressed each word and phrase with her silky sound which opened up beautifully in the crescendo. Ms. Moore used her bright and shiny voice in "La Gavotte" from Massenet's Manon. When she opened up at the top of the register we thought all the glasses in the room would break.
The brilliant bass-baritone Musa Ngqungwana, third prize winner, performed "Riez, allez, riez du pauvre ideologue" from Massenet's Don Quichotte with a big round tone and fine French diction. We made sure to learn how to pronounce his name because we are going to be hearing a lot more from him.
Fourth prize was won by the excellent baritone John Viscardi who sang "Ya vas lyubil" from Tchaikovsky's Pique Dame; his performance was filled with Russian soul. Oh, how we dearly love Tchaikovsky!
Fifth prizes were won by sopranos Elise Brancheau and Ewa Plonka Nino. Ms. Brancheau performed Micaela's aria "Je dis que rien ne m'epouvant" from Bizet's Carmen. Her fine vocalism and acting captured the faith-based courage of her character. Ms. Nino did justice to "Acerba volutta" from Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur. We enjoyed her pianissimo as much as the grand crescendo in which she spun a beautiful tone.
Grant winners were also on the program and every single one excelled. Bass-baritone Leo Radosavljevic captured Figaro's outrage with his fine voice and expansive personality as he performed "Aprite un po' quegl'occhi" from Mozart's Nozze di Figaro (which we heard at the Metropolitan Opera and reviewed last night).
Soprano Liana Guberman and tenor Riad Ymeri harmonized perfectly in the tender duet "O soave fanciulla" from Puccini's La Boheme. We enjoyed the depth of feeling they expressed. We fondly recall Ms. Guberman's beautiful realized Mimi last season at Loft Opera.
Another brilliant duet was performed by soprano Mia Pafumi and tenor Mingjie Lei--"Una parola, O Adina" from Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amore. Their characterizations were as admirable as their voices, both of them fearlessly tackling the fioritura. Both have sweet light voices, perfect for those roles.
We loved the way mezzo Shirin Eskandani realized the character of Rosina as she performed "Dunque io son" from Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia; she tore into the fioritura with gusto. Her Figaro was the fine baritone Christian Bowers; his reactions were priceless. Instead of writing notes, they sent messages to Lindoro via cellphone. The audience loved it.
The fiery duet from Donizetti's Anna Bolena--"Ah! Qual sin cercar non oso" was well performed by mezzo Lisa Chavez and baritone Jarrett Ott. We always love a good bel canto duet and last evening we reveled in an embarrassment of riches.
Last but by no means least, we thrilled to the sound of trumpets. That is we thrilled to the sound of "Suoni la tromba" from Bellini's I Puritani. What thrilled us particularly was the big bass sound of Patrick Guetti and baritone Jamez McCorkle. Mr. Guetti, whose performances we have enjoyed on several occasions, strikes us as one of those "stage animals" from whom one cannot takes one's eyes and ears.
Not only were we thrilled by the quality of the entertainment but we had the pleasure of experiencing the honoring of two renowned singers who have contributed so much to young artists--Marilyn Horne and Richard Leech, both of whom had interesting things to say.
And then...as they say...dinner was served. We would like to honor The Giulio Gari Foundation for their generous contribution to the world of opera.
(c) meche kroop