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.

Saturday, February 28, 2015


Nora London and the 2015 George London Foundation Awards Competition Finalists

Attending competitions can be exhilarating, stimulating, and sometimes disappointing. With so much talent onstage it is easy to get very invested in your favorite performances and to count on a particular artist getting an award.  Second guessing the judges just doesn't work.  It is easy to feel upset when an artist you just love gets overlooked.

On the positive side, it is thrilling to hear so much talent within the space of a couple hours.  This year's finalists in the George London Foundation for Singers Competition, held at The Morgan Library, were of such high quality that a director would have no trouble casting an opera with these young artists in major roles.

If you need to know who won the major prizes, we refer you to the Foundation's website.  We prefer to share with you our own perceptions.  Some of the singers we enjoyed did win major prizes, some won Encouragement Grants, others did not and, in our opinion, deserved to win.  Actually, all of them were winners!

A gifted singer can get the listener to appreciate an aria that he/she might not ordinarily enjoy, or a language one does not particularly favor. For example, baritone Reginald Smith, Jr. and bass Adam Lau employed such fine English diction that we understood every word and considered their performances two of our favorites.

Mr. Smith has a compelling stage presence, a rich tone, and a unique way of melding musicality with dramatic intensity such that  "Oh Lawd Jesus, heah my prayer" from L. Gruenberg's The Emperor Jones had us leaning forward in our seat.  When that opera gets produced in New York and Mr. Smith stars in it, we will be there!

Mr. Lau gave a similarly superb performance of "Claggart's Aria" from Britten's Billy Budd, giving the role all the bitterness and envy that was called for without ever compromising the requisite musicianship.

Two terrific tenors injected some longed-for garlic into the proceedings which were strangely short of Italian. The two distinguished themselves from the other tenors by never forcing the voice when a high note was called for.  Michael Brandenburg sang Macduff's grief stricken aria "Ah, la paterna mano" from Verdi's Macbeth, skillfully using dynamics for emotional effect.  Benjamin Bliss' performance of "Un aura amorosa" from Mozart's Cosi fan Tutte was marked by enviable legato phrasing and an admirable messa di voce.

Having just heard Tchaikovsky's Iolanta at the Met, we were delighted to hear "Robert's Aria" once again, sung by the full-throated baritone Sean Michael Plumb who seemed preternaturally comfortable in Russian.  Lovely soprano Mary-Hollis Hundley performed "Iolanta's Arioso", investing Tchaikovsky's lavish melodies with depth of feeling.

German was represented by Julie Adams who employed her ample and expressive soprano in "Einsam in trüben Tagen" from Wagner's Lohengrin.  Amy Owens used her bright soprano effectively in "Durch Zärtlichkeit" from Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail.  Johann Strauss' "Frühlingsstimmen Walzer" was performed by soprano Susanna Biller with great style and an ear tickling trill which roused the audience to huge applause.

Much of the remainder of the program was in French.  Massenet appeared several times and we felt well acquainted with Manon.  Soprano Lara Secord-Haid enjoyed the wild flights of coloratura in "Je suis encore toute étourdie" when the eponymous heroine was still innocent.  Andrea Carroll's well modulated performance of the "Gavotte" profited (pun intended) from her winning personality and fine fioritura.

More Massenet was on hand as soprano Nicole Haslett sang "Ah! douce enfant" from Cendrillon; her ringing tone was perfect for the role of the fairy.  Just another splendid performance! And yet more Massenet appeared as soprano Lauren Michelle sang "Il est doux, il est bon" from Hérodiade in fine French with elegance of line.

Soprano Courtney Johnson gave a most convincing performance of the "Jewel Song" from Gounod's Faust.  Ms. Johnson is only 23 years old but is gifted beyond her years, judging by her technique and commitment to the material.  We have been watching her growth as an artist for a couple years now with great expectations.

Mezzo-soprano J'nai Bridges is another artist we have been watching and her performance of "O ma lyre immortelle" from Gounod's Sapho demonstrated a fine liquid vibrato, and equal connection with the material and with the audience. We want to hear the entire opera based on this gorgeous aria.

Meyerbeer's florid vocal line in "Nobles seigneurs, salut" from Les Huguenots was no challenge to mezzo-soprano Julia Dawson who filled the role with ample personality. From Berlioz' Les Troyens, mezzo-soprano Sarah Mesko sang Dido's aria "Adieu Fière Cité" with a lovely legato line.

Notably, each singer introduced him/herself and the aria he/she would sing. There were several other performances that we enjoyed but we have already run on and on. As accompanist Linda Hall was peerless and switched styles effortlessly.  

Nora London has been tireless in sustaining the legacy of her late husband George London.  He would have been so happy to see all the generous prizes being awarded to these deserving young artists!

© meche kroop

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