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.

Thursday, December 3, 2015


Grace Canfield, Allison Porter, Cristobal Arias, Katelan Terrell, Cristina Stanescu, Caitlin Redding, Matthew Swensen, William Kelley, Sora Jung ,Ho Jae Lee, Nathan Raskin

It was another thrilling early evening liederabend at Juilliard and the hall was packed. Five superb singers joined with five collaborative pianists for a pleasant respite from the Xmas shopping chaos outside.  The performances were all excellent; we would expect no less.

It's possible to admire all the artists and yet to single out a couple that for one reason or another affect us more deeply.  We suspect it has something to do with the mood we are in or the choice of material. We sometimes hear an artist on another occasion and have very different feelings.  So...here goes.

We were absolutely enchanted by two tenors, which, in itself is remarkable because we get very turned off if a tenor pushes his high notes.  (We actually feel the tension in our own throat and it hurts!) What a surprise to learn that Cristobal Arias is just a sophomore in the Vocal Arts Department. He performed Beethoven's song cycle An die ferne Geliebte, and he performed it magnificently.

This cycle is Beethoven at his most melodic and the melodies have been running through our head all night. Unlike Schubert's cycles, this one does not tell a story. Rather, all the songs revolve around the central theme of longing for a distant beloved. They are best sung simply without spurious dramatic effects and this is exactly how they were performed. 

Mr. Arias has a gentle sweet tone and made liberal use of dynamic variety from the very start. In "Leichte Segler in den Höhen" he sang with marcato emphasis and in "Diese Wolken in den Höhen" he sang with a lovely lilting quality. He ended the cycle with intensity and passion. We were, as they say, "feelin' it".

The cycle was performed without breaks and his piano partner Katelan Terrell was delightful in the interludes which knit the songs together. We loved the way she captured the nature sounds and it was clear that she was enjoying herself.

The second tenor was quite different but equally impressive. Accompanied by Ho Jae Lee, he sang a trio of songs by Francis Poulenc whom we are coming to appreciate more and more. His instrument is a rich one with an interesting velvety texture and a pleasing resonance; his technique is flawless. His involvement in the material was intense and sustained right through the silences. He drew us into the text from the very beginning and by the time he got to the setting of Appolinaire's "Bleuet" we were close to tears.  That's communing with the audience!

We also heard three fine women whom we enjoyed a great deal. The glamorously gowned soprano Grace Canfield, ably accompanied by Nathan Raskin, has a bright sound that opens at the top like a parasol. She sang two selections from Liszt's Tre sonetti del Petrarca--"Pace non trovo" and "I' vidi in terra", and she sang them with intensity and urgency.

Soprano Allison Porter, accompanied by Sora Jung, introduced us to some early 20th c. French songs by Louis Beydts. The texts of the cycle Chansons pour les oiseaux were mostly nonsensical and Ms. Porter succeeded in bringing out the humor with her bubbly personality.

And finally, mezzo Caitlin Redding performed a trio of selections from Claude Debussy's settings of Cinq Poèmes de Baudelaire. They are a far cry from the no nonsense realistic depiction of longing in the Beethoven cycle; au contraire, they are filled with metaphor and imagery.  Similarly the music is radically different from Beethoven's direct illumination of a feeling but rather indirect and impressionistic. William Kelley performed well as piano partner.

The singers were coached by Cristina Stanescu who deserves to be pleased as punch.

Now wasn't that a better way to spend an hour than shopping??  You betcha'!

(c) meche kroop


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