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, October 5, 2015


Julian Milkis, Abdiel Vazquez, and Anastasiya Roytman

Scintillating soprano Anastasiya Roytman generously shared her Carnegie Recital Hall debut with two other superb artists in a compelling program that included not only our favorite Wagner and Mahler songs but contemporary American songs that we actually enjoyed!

The last time we heard and reviewed Ms. Roytman we opined that she needed a larger hall (than Scorca Hall at the National Opera Center) to show off the size of her voice and we are delighted to report that she scaled her wonderful instrument to the size and acoustics of Weill Recital Hall.

And a lovely instrument it is and well suited to the chosen material. No wonder that she has achieved acclaim worldwide! She has a gracious stage presence and makes good use of body and facial expression to get a song across, without resorting to excessive theatrics. It's all in the voice, which is most important.

Richard Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder, WWV91 are settings of the poetry of his beloved Matilda Wesendonck; they are filled with passion and deep feeling which Ms. Roytman successfully communicated with superb control of dynamics and phrasing. The songs offer many opportunities for changes of color, also exploited by Ms. Roytman; she seemed totally present with the text and able to communicate the depth of feeling to the audience. We especially enjoyed "Schmerzen" but also admired the buildup of intensity in "Träume" where Wagner's phrases ascended the scale.

Her astutely chosen piano partner, Abdiel Vazquez, demonstrated a particular resonance with Wagner and contributed a solo piece--Tausig's arrangement for piano of "Isolde's Liebestod" from Tristan und Isolde--an arrangement we had never heard before but long to hear again as it has been echoing in our mind's ear all night.

Gustav Mahler's Rückert-Lieder offer the same opportunities for a variety of moods and colors and delight us no end.  Here, they were given an almost operatic treatment with each song seeming like an aria with all emotional bases covered. Ms. Roytman effectively negotiated the large skips in "Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder!". But our personal favorite was the powerful "Um Mitternacht" which was given a suitably powerful delivery.

Ms. Roytman's diction achieved a remarkable sense of legato in the phrasing, so difficult to achieve in German. Our only small critique is that there needs to be more attention paid to consistency of pronunciation of the "ch", a problem experienced by most non-German singers.

The big surprise of the evening were songs by contemporary composers that were neither "academic" nor derivative. We are always thrilled when our preconceived notions are overcome. Alexey Shor, present in the audience, wrote the music and lyrics for "Coming of Age Trio" and "Ode of Persistence Trio". This world premiere included the stylish clarinet playing of Julian Milkis and gave Ms. Roytman the opportunity to show a different aspect of her artistry.

The first song had an episode in which she performed a vocalise with the clarinet which was remarkable. Mr. Shor's text rhymed and involved the coming of Spring; the music was melodic and strangely melancholic. The second song was playful and the text was about an ambivalent woman who succumbs to a persistent suitor.

The second big surprise comprised some jazzy songs by Stefania de Kenessy, whose music was so fine that we immediately arranged to see her new opera next weekend--Bonfire of the Vanities at Museo del Barrio. "Four Laughs Only" was exactly that--laughing accompanied by clarinet and piano. "Trio in 4 Movements" included humming and nonsense syllables (WA-WA) which completely avoided the problem of making the rhythms of the English language musical.

We would like to commend Ms. Roytman for one more thing. She never used a score! Mostly, when we hear contemporary music, the stuff is so obscure that the singer is on the book.  Not so here! This allowed her to communicate directly with the audience and to express the joy of this original music.

As encore the artists gave us an improvisatory version of "Summertime" from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess in which all three artists let loose.  It was a fine end to a fine evening!

(c) meche kroop

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