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.

Friday, March 27, 2015


William Kelley, Juliana Han, Eric Jurenas, and Theo Hoffman

We confess to greediness where pleasure is concerned. Last night's Vocal Arts Honors Recital at Juilliard could easily have gone on for another hour.  It left us wanting more--not in any way unsatisfied, just wanting more goodies from the four gifted artists who graced the stage at Alice Tully Hall.

The two singers were nominated by their voice teachers for a competitive audition and then selected by distinguished judges.  Each chose his own program and that lent a degree of excitement to the evening--learning a bit about how they experience their own particular talent.  The two pianists were chosen from the Collaborative Piano Department.

The first half of the evening was performed by counter-tenor Eric Jurenas accompanied by the lovely Juliana Han. If you read our review of Anthony Roth Costanzo last week, you may recall how fond we are of this special fach.  If you are a regular reader, you may recall that we do not prefer singing in English. We are now back-pedalling since Mr. Jurenas' superb English diction and Henry Purcell's lavish melodies ensured that this was our favorite part of his offerings.

Mr. Jurenas has a finely focused instrument that is brilliant in the upper register and manages to bring an amazing roundness of tone in the lower register.  Although no one knows what the castrati sounded like, we were imagining that was the sound. We are glad, however, that Mr. Jurenas was never called upon to make the necessary sacrifice.  Hard work is sacrifice enough!

The Purcell songs were the perfect choice for his instrument and he brought the text to life with dramatic expressiveness, dynamic variety and thoughtful word coloring.  "Music for a While" from Oedipus has rarely fallen on our ears with such delight.  In "Sweeter than Roses" from Pausanias, we loved the melismatic singing on the word "victorious"; what Mr. Jurenas did with the word "freeze" made us shiver!

He showed some fine French style in Ravel's Épigrammes de ClĂ©ment Marot which gave Ms. Han an opportunity to shine.  He evinced equal skill with German in a selection of songs by Alexander Zemlinsky and Gustav Mahler. We have always enjoyed "Lob des hohen Verstandes" from Des Knaben Wunderhorn--a metaphor for ignorant audience members (the donkey) who can't tell good music (the nightingale) from bad (the cuckoo).  Of course that doesn't apply to New York audiences! Mr. Jurenas sang it with great style and humor.

Another text from Des Knaben Wunderhorn--"Das irdische Leben" was given all the tragic interpretation Mahler wrote into it, a real heartbreaker. No one can do tragedy like Mahler!

The second half of the program belonged to baritone Theo Hoffman and collaborative pianist William Kelley. Mr. Hoffman has impressed us since his very beginnings at Juilliard and he just keeps getting better. His many awards and multiple castings indicate that we are not alone in being impressed.

He sang three Tchaikovsky songs that were wildly romantic. We do not speak Russian but they sounded very authentic to our ears.  More importantly,  the words came across as if they tasted delicious in his mouth. His dynamic range is huge; he began at barely a whisper and opened up to an astonishing crescendo of passion.

The concluding song of the set, "Whether day dawns", gave Mr. Kelley a chance to tear into the passionate postlude.  The set of songs were so powerful and so dramatically sung that the next set of songs by Carlos Guastavino allowed the temperature in the hall to cool slightly while still upholding artistic intensity.

Guastavino composed in the early 20th c. when poetry still scanned and rhymed.  The vocal lines are lovely and Mr. Hoffman's Spanish was perfect, according to our native Spanish speaking companion. In "Ya me voy a retirar" the pain of the poet's loss is converted into beauty.

Our favorite of the set was "La rosa y el sauce", a plaintive song that ended in a dazzling vocalise.

Mr. Hoffman's program ended with the New York premiere of Three Tennyson Songs by Jonathan Dove, a contemporary composer who manages to write melodically. Perhaps choosing a "good" poet like Alfred Lord Tennyson brings out the best in a composer. Mr. Kelley had a great time with the prelude to "O Swallow, Swallow" and played some interesting octaves in "Dark House" while Mr. Hoffman employed vivid word coloring.

We longed for some encores but there were none.  We comfort ourselves knowing that there will be many more opportunities to hear these artists in the future. They have been winning prizes hand over fist and are already much in demand.

(c) meche kroop

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