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, April 13, 2015



Yesterday's recital of winners of The Gerda Lissner Foundation International Vocal Competition offered immeasurable delights. Somehow it felt more like a celebration than a recital. We celebrate the largess of the foundation that awarded a most generous $238,000 this year to 17 young artists who were chosen from among the 330 who auditioned.

We celebrate the rapid ascent of these dedicated young singers who put in so much time and effort to share their love of opera with the grateful audience.  And we also celebrate the fact that we are a community, a family of opera lovers who can gather together and share our joy.

The host for the evening was Brian Kellow, Features Editor of Opera News. The well-loved Diana Soviero presented a lifetime achievement award to Lenore Rosenberg who, among many other gifts, is a fine judge of competitions worldwide.  She spoke briefly but every word she said was valuable and we wish to quote her.

What she said was "It's not the kind of voice a person has but the kind of person who has the voice." She spoke about the balance among vocal quality, technique, and expressiveness.  She spoke about the single mindedness that makes for success in this difficult field.  The ones who make it are those who never consider an alternative career. They sing because they must.  That's what they do! She gave us a lot to think about and we are grateful for it.

We heard sixteen singers in a space of two hours and, although everyone was at least good and most were excellent, a few stood out for various reasons. Sometimes it's someone we've never heard. Sometimes it's someone we have been writing about for several years and have always loved. And sometimes it's someone who has made great strides since we heard them last.

The first singer who comes to mind is Mingjie Lei. And why? Because his delivery of "Una furtiva lagrima" produced una furtiva lagrima in our eye! We have heard Donizetti's star-making aria from L'Elisir d'Amore countless times but never felt such an identification with Nemorino.  Mr. Lei's Nemorino didn't come across as a doofus but as a very real person who is about to realize his deepest dream. We saw the situation through his very eyes.

Soprano Kiri Deonarine dazzled our ears with "The Bell Song" from Delibes' Lakme. It was the sheer force of her technique coupled with a singular coloratura instrument that blew us away. Such pinpoint accuracy in her wild flights into the stratosphere! Such perfectly executed trills and scales and fioritura !

Marina Costa-Jackson impressed us with her versatility. We have reviewed her often and love the generous amplitude of her voice, her assurance onstage and the way she slips into her character as she did into that of Amelia in Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera. The sad aria "Morró, ma prima in grazia" affected us deeply.

Bass Patrick Guetti tackled the severity of "Il lacerato spirito" from Verdi's Simone Boccanegra with aplomb and fearlessness. The note he ended on, at the very bottom of his register, was unforgettable. He is still very young for a bass and has enormous potential.

We admired baritone Jared Bybee's Rodrigo in "Io morro" from Verdi's Don Carlo.  The sense of dying for a higher purpose came through clearly in his stunning performance.

Baritone John Viscardi threw himself into Figaro's "Largo al factotum" from Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia and used the entire stage and his ample dramatic skills to create a complex character overwhelmed by his own busyness. (Oh, how we could relate!)

Lovely mezzo-soprano J'nai Bridges brought out all the delicacy of "O ma lyre immortelle" from Gounod's Sapho. She has a wonderful instrument that she employs judiciously, carefully modulating both volume and color.

We loved the gracious phrasing baritone Jarrett Lee Ott brought to "Mein Sehnen, mein Wähnen" from Korngold's Die Tote Stadt. We understood every single word of his flawless German diction.

Soprano Nicole Hazlett made the perfect fairy godmother in Massenet's Cendrillon. Her "Ah! douce enfant" was shimmery and ethereal.

Soprano Kirsten Mackinnon filled the air with chills and thrills as she performed the "Jewel Song" from Gounod's Faust.  Her French diction was excellent, even at the top. We do so love good coloratura!

Bass Wei Wu gave a solid rendition of the stately "O Isis und Osiris" from Mozart's Die Zauberflöte.  His sizable voice filled the hall and sounded far more impressive than it did yesterday in the small recital hall of the American Opera Center.

Baritone Michael Adams is a stage animal--totally assured with both the Russian language and with his character Tomsky from Tchaikovsky's Pique Dame. We look forward to hearing him at the Santa Fe Opera this summer.

Baritone Reginald Smith Jr. stood out for his convincing performance as The Emperor Jones in the eponymous opera by Gruenberg.

We have not distinguished between the various levels of prizes awarded. That information is available elsewhere and matters little to us. What matters to us is the opportunity to share a glorious experience with our fellow opera lovers.

(c) meche kroop

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