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.

Saturday, November 7, 2015


Artistic Director of Classic Lyric Arts Glenn Morton and his talented group of young artists

A gala is defined as a social occasion with special entertainments or performances, a festive celebration-- and that is exactly what transpired last night when Classic Lyric Arts celebrated its young artists and entertained those denizens of Planet Opera fortunate enough to be at the annual Fall Benefit Gala.

For those of you who don't already know, CLA runs two highly esteemed programs which aim to advance the careers of young singers by on-site immersion in the cultures of France (L'Art du Chant Français) and Italy (La Lingua della Lirica). Everything is covered--diction, style, repertoire, stagecraft, and career development. The students are also given international performing opportunities.

Filmmaker August Ventura has documented these programs for anyone to witness the magic that takes place, and we have attended some of the master classes taught by some truly brilliant teachers who brought out the best in their students.

We will come to the entertainment part of the evening shortly but first we wanted to comment on the tribute given to the program by former student Dorothy Gal who shared with the audience some charming stories about the training she received. She was not the only alumna present. These young artists develop a strong loyalty to the programs and a deep attachment to Artistic Director Glenn Morton.

As far as the singing goes, we were royally entertained as the students showed off their newly acquired artistry.  Beautiful soprano Mikaela Bennett, fresh out of the Italian program, provided a splendid performance of "O, mio babbino caro" from Puccini's Gianni Schicchi.

There was a sparkle in her top notes and plenty of pleading, enough to convince her poppa to give her anything she wanted. We just recently heard her for the first time with Steven Blier's "Sing for your Supper", singing cabaret in English. It was quite a treat to learn of her skills in Italian.

We adored mezzo-soprano Kady Evanyshyn's lovely performance of "Connais-tu le pays" from Ambroise Thomas' Mignon  for its long lyrical phrases and fine French style. This gave firm evidence of her hard work in both programs.

Does anyone not love "Ah! mes amis" from Donizetti's La fille du régiment? One tends to hold one's breath waiting for the tenor to nail those high C's and Vincent Festa tossed them off without a sign of strain. High notes aside, the aria was delivered with beautiful tone and apt sincerity.

We always love a good duet and the lovely Larisa Martinez paired with baritone Suchan Kim for "Tutte le feste al tempio" from Verdi's Rigoletto. The pair sounded excellent together and succeeded in conveying all the pathos required. Ms. Martinez' voice opens up beautifully on top and Mr. Kim has a full tone with a great deal of depth.

Vera Kremers sang "Youkali" by Kurt Weill and made every word count.  Even at the top of her register, we understood every word. This was perhaps the best French diction we have ever heard from someone not born in France. Her bright voice was firmly grounded. We would have liked a bit more emphasis of the tango rhythm but we got plenty of that from Laetitia Ruccolo's piano.

The quartet from Puccini's La Bohème is a wonderful showpiece. Rodolfo and Mimi have a tender moment while Marcello and Musetta are having a knock-down drag-out fight. Soprano Nadia Petrella gave us a tender well-modulated Mimi with tenor Matt Greenblatt a fine Rodolfo. Ms. Bennett returned as Musetta with baritone Bret Thom as Marcello. These four graduates of the Italian program perfumed the air with virtual garlic. Michael Sheetz was the excellent accompanist.

Händel's opera Serse is one of the composer's best. In "Va godendo/Io le dirò", the role of Serse, usually sung by a mezzo-soprano, was sung by Gon Halevi while Jordan Rutter sang the part of Arsemene, which is also generally sung by a mezzo-soprano. In a kind of reverse gender-bending, these two countertenors made a special kind of music. It's a fach of which we are very fond and we enjoyed the change.

Soprano Tamara Rusque gave a moving performance of Cio-Cio San's big aria of self-delusion--"Un bel di vedremo" from Puccini's Madama Butterfly. Her big rich sound has an impressive resonance and her acting skills were convincing.

Dongling Gao left the European world behind and graced us with a lovely Mandarin love song accompanied by Jia-Jun Hong. And finally, three handsome dudes performed the trio from On the Town by Leonard Bernstein.  Michael Stewart accompanied while Mr. Greenblatt, Mr. Thom, and Jon Thierer had a marvelous time with it; the joy was reflected on the faces of the audience.

We want to give three cheers to the programs, the artists, and to Glenn Morton.  So....hip, hip, hooray.  Or as we say nowadays, WOOT!

(c) meche kroop

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