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 21, 2015


Giulio Gari Foundation Competition Winners

The Giulio Gari Foundation was inspired by Mr. Gari's success as a human being and as an artist who sang all over the world and later taught the younger generation. Stephen DeMaio and Licia Albanese joined forces to ensure that his legacy survives and that young singers get the encouragement they need.

To a young singer the encouragement and performance opportunities, not to mention cash awards, are motivating factors to enter competitions and one tends to hear the same voices from one competition to the next. It is interesting how consistent are the judges choices. Artistry will not be denied!

Yesterday at the New York Athletic Club, we had the pleasure of seeing and hearing thirteen emerging artists.  Of course, in the remainder of the world, these "youngsters" are already singing roles both major and minor in major and minor opera houses. If we lived elsewhere, we would be among the audiences happy to pay to hear them. But here in New York they are still considered "young artists" regardless of their artistic maturity.

We were in complete agreement with the judges choices and only a bit regretful that some of the major winners, like baritone Takaoki Onishi and tenor Andrew Stenson, were unable to attend due to contract commitments. But that's the whole point--to give their careers a boost and to get them in front of the public.

That being said, the singers who did appear were uniformly excellent and the audience, many of whom were prominent personages on Planet Opera, was profoundly stirred by the presence of so much talent.

We will not here disclose the prize level of the various participants. Nor will we discuss how many prizes they have won at other foundations, information that is available in the program. Rather, we prefer to focus on the singers who won our heart and made us want to hear more.

J'nai Bridges always astonishes us with her dark smoky mezzo-soprano and the depth of connection with what she is performing.  Yesterday, her rendition of the "Habanera" from Bizet's Carmen pulled us right into Seville. Perfect French, perfect phrasing, and a special way of connecting with the audience made us eager to hear her perform the entire role.

Soprano Vanessa Vasquez is new to us and we absolutely cannot wait to hear more of her. She is a born storyteller and brought "Chi il bel sogno di Doretta" from Puccini's La Rondine to vivid life. She did it with charm and beautifully shaped phrases and brilliant tone.

The small stage was overwhelmed with testosterone as baritone Jared Bybee and bass-baritone Andre Courville joined voices for "Suoni la tromba" from Bellini's I Puritani. We loved the energy they produced together and the way their voices blended in Bellini's gorgeous harmonies.

We do love us some harmony and "Au fond du temple saint" from Bizet's Pearl Fishers is so popular that it takes special talent to bring something new to the duet. Yi Li's tenor and Szymon Komasa' baritone were just what was needed. One could actually visualize the object of their obsession off in the distance! It was particularly gracious of Mr. Komasa to appear since he was fresh off a transatlantic flight. The pair could serenade me with this duet anytime!

We have reviewed Jamez McCorkle as a baritone on prior occasions and were a bit surprised to hear him sing as a tenor. Although the switch was recent, he sounded exceptionally comfortable in that fach and "Questa o quella" from Verdi's Rigoletto was delivered with style and secure sound. His risk surely paid off!

Soprano Heather Phillips had delighted us in Santa Fe this summer and we were happy to hear her do justice to "Depuis le jour" from Charpentier's Louise.  We liked her dynamic variety, her soaring phrases, and especially the way she spun out the final note.

Another singer we enjoyed in Santa Fe was tenor Galeano Salas and it was wonderful to hear him romancing soprano Raquel Suarez Groen in "O soave fanciulla" from Puccini's La Boheme. She has a lovely vibrato and he has a generous sound that made the duet a complete delight.

Tenor Dominick Chenes has a voice of substantial size that was just right for "Recondita Armonia" from Puccini's Tosca. He has a tendency to "sing to the balcony" and we badly wanted him to lower his head and make contact with the audience.

Baritone Jeffrey Hoos exhibited some rich sonorities in "Oh du mein holder Abendstern" from Wagner's Tannhäuser. We liked his German diction. He never cheated a consonant but still managed to maintain a legato feeling.

We had heard tenor Alasdair Kent before as part of Prelude to Performance and were pleased to hear him in much better voice yesterday as he sang "Dal labbro il canto" Fenton's gorgeous aria from Verdi's Falstaff. It was romantic and heartfelt and his diminuendo to a pianissimo was stunning.

Finally, mezzo-soprano Cynthia Cook sang the "Seguidilla" from Bizet's Carmen in lovely French. Her Carmen was a perhaps a bit more coy than dangerous!

As usual, excellent accompaniment was provided by Arlene Shrut and Jonathan Kelly.

(c) meche kroop

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