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, November 20, 2015


Jacob Ingbar, Christine Oh, María Fernanda Brea, Mikaela Bennett

A liederabend at Juilliard is always an event. We often feel as if we are discovering the stars of tomorrow at the early stages of their careers and that is exciting. Yesterday we heard four undergraduates, each one a promising artist. We also heard a counter-tenor who is a post-graduate; but Jakub Jósef Orliński is already famous and missed the photo-op in order to make a plane to Europe where he is performing.

It was just a month ago that we heard and enjoyed his performance of some Italian baroque arias. Yesterday we heard him sing in French with a lovely tone that is youthful but never thin. He sang five songs by Reynaldo Hahn; we loved the way his floated top notes lingered in the air. Although the French line was perfectly legato, our favorite chanson was the lively "Fêtes Galantes".

Soprano María Fernanda Brea is well remembered from last summer's Fille du Regiment , in which she performed a charming Marie for Prelude to Performance (review archived). Yesterday she sang once again in French--Alfred Bachelet's "Chère nuit" in which she perfectly negotiated the dramatic upward leaps. There were also three fine songs by Massenet. We loved "Le printemps visite la terre". In the serenade "Nuit d'Espagne" collaborative pianist Valeriya Polunina varied her technique to provide suggestions of a guitar, sometimes strummed and sometimes plucked.

Baritone Jacob Ingbar not only has a pleasantly mellow sound but the gift of storytelling. He wisely chose Robert Schumann's Romanzen und Balladen Op. 53, comprising three stories requiring a hefty dose of dramatic interpretation which Mr. Ingbar handled expressively.  Kathryn Felt's piano was particularly lovely in "Loreley".

Soprano Christine Oh, accompanied by Jinhee Park, who has a soft touch on the keys, sang selections from Hugo Wolf's Italienisches Liederbuch. Ms. Oh has a fine vibrato and a voice that opens up on top like an umbrella. We wanted just a bit more expression in "Wie lange schon war immer mein Verlangen".  When the poet finally gets a musician boyfriend she might show a bit of dismay when he scrapes away at the violin.  Alternatively, she might blissfully ignore his ineptitude.  In either case, we want the singer to have a reaction. In  "Mein Liebster singt am Haus" the poet is given to adolescent hyperbole and we'd like to see more of the histrionics as she weeps a river of blood. Happily, Ms. Oh captured the humor of "Ich hab' in Penna einen Liebsten wohnen", the feminine equivalent of Leporello's "Catalogue aria".

Soprano Mikaela Bennett closed the program with four songs by André Previn. We have heard Ms. Bennett sing with NYFOS and were dazzled by her voice and stage presence as she sang American cabaret classics.  Yesterday she put heart and soul into Previn's songs but we could not say we liked the songs or wanted to hear them again. She sang "Do You Know Him?" a capella and once again impressed us with her tone and her phrasing as well as her commitment to the text. We were also impressed with her diction; every word was clear. Emil Duncumb was her collaborative pianist.

We applaud these young singers for their talent, for their hard work, and for the effort put into memorizing the material so that they could make excellent contact with the audience. There were some minor flaws in the nasal vowels of French and an occasional inconsistency with the final "ch" in German but the diction was always clear and the text well communicated.  Bravissimi!

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