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, May 8, 2017


Brent Funderburk, Betty Garces, and Nilko Andreas Guarin

It was a gloomy drizzly day outside but inside the National Opera Center we were given such a dose of sunshine that we wished we'd been wearing SPF 40!   Soprano Betty Garces, beside being a highly accomplished musician, radiates warmth onstage. We had the opportunity to hear her perform works of joy, grief, and everything in between. There was not a single false note, not musically, not emotionally.

Most of our reviewing experience  focuses on young artists at the conservatories whom we love to follow, documenting their artistic growth; it is not usual that we review a young artist who is fully formed.  But Ms. Garces comes from Colombia and has been creating sunshine in her native country and in Europe. The hour we spent with her was pure delight and we didn't want it to end.  

She had two superb collaborating artists as well.  Pianist Brent Funderburk, whose sensitive skills working with singers is well remembered from his stint at Juilliard, and classical guitarist Nilko Andreas Guarin who also hails from Colombia and whose artistry as a soloist and collaborator are celebrated world wide. We reviewed Mr. Guarin's superb performance a year and a half ago in an all-Spanish program.

The program certainly showed off Ms. Garces' versatility, in that it included songs in German by Austrian composer Joseph Marx, songs in Russian by Sergei Rachmaninoff, songs in Spanish by composers of Spain and el Nuevo Mundo, songs in Portuguese by Heitor Villalobos and Jayme Ovalle, and arias in Italian by Puccini and Verdi.  Although Russian and Portuguese are not among our languages they sounded just fine.  The German was perfect.

We have always loved songs by Marx whose work looks back toward the 19th c.  Rachmaninoff's lavish romanticism is always a delight to hear and Ms. Garces' performance of "Spring Waters" was particularly timely!

Fellow Colombian Jaime Leon wrote dozens of art songs in the 20th c., of which we heard two--"La Campesina" and "Si no fuera por ti".  Until yesterday we had never heard any of them but we long to hear more of them!

Cuban composer Gonzalo Roig wrote the zarzuela Cecilia Valdes, a tale of class and racial conflict, in 1932. The song of the ill-fated heroine is known to us and it was given a spirited performance by Ms. Garces. Spanish composer Federico Moreno Torroba wrote his zarzuela La Marchenera in 1928, from which we enjoyed "La Petenera". The Spanish song on yesterday's  program with which we are most familiar was Manuel de Falla's "Polo", from his Siete Canciones Populares Espanolas of 1914. Ms. Garces brought out every ounce of anguish.

The Portuguese songs comprised the much recorded "Azulao" by Ovalle and "Melodia Sentimental" from Villalobos' 1950 work "Floresta do Amazonas", both with guitar accompaniment by Mr. Guarin.

In every case, we felt like we were sampling antojitos, wanting Ms. Garces to return with una comida entera.

In the operatic department we heard "Si, mi chiamano Mimi" from Puccini's La Boheme in which Ms. Garces beautifully portrayed the modest but flirtatious Mimi, and "Pace, pace mio Dio" from Verdi's La forza del destino in which Leonora's desperation was limned.

It is in the performance of an aria that we know well that we are best able to evaluate vocal artistry and it would be an understatement to say that we were impressed. Ms. Garces has a luscious instrument that opens up like an umbrella at the upper end of the register with overtones bouncing around the hall. Her phrasing is impeccable and her use of vocal coloration was as extensive as that of the Fauvists in the world of visual art.  Every song was its own world. No matter how much rehearsal went into this recital, the overall effect was one of spontaneity.

Mr. Guarin entertained us with two fine guitar solos--Prelude No 1 in E minor by Villalobos and Tango in Sky by the recently deceased French composer Roland Dyens. Although we know very little about guitar technique, we could definitely appreciate the beautiful sound and the way he accompanied Ms. Garces for the Portuguese songs, the Torroba, and the De Falla. 

We left completely satisfied by this superb recital which offered a fine balance of vocal and instrumental delights.  Yes, we were satisfied, and yet....we wanted more!

(c) meche kroop

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