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, December 11, 2017


Myra Huang, Quinn Kelsey, and Marjorie Owens

For those of you lovers of good singing who don't already know about it, The Morgan Library offers a splendid series of recitals in collaboration with The George London Foundation for Singers, famed for their generosity with awards to promising young singers in an annual competition.

The recitals feature previous winners of these competitions and it is always rewarding for us to see how astutely the winners were chosen and how far they have come in their careers. Yesterday's recital featured two singers who have achieved worldwide fame on the stages of grand opera houses. But we, dear reader, got to see and hear them up close and personal.

Dramatic soprano Marjorie Owens won the Leonie Rysanek Award from the George London Foundation in 2009 and her career has blossomed since then. She has garnered awards from major competitions worldwide and it was easy to see why at yesterday's recital.

She opened the program with a trio of songs by our dearly loved Tchaikovsky. The first one, known as "None but the lonely heart" is a setting of text by Goethe translated into Russian. We know it as "Nur wer die sehnsucht kennt". The melody and accompaniment are completely different but the sentiment remains the same--that of the suffering experienced by those denied love.

Ms. Owens sang it with beautiful phrasing and a pleasing vibrato. She seemed to taste and caress each word.  In the second song, "Again, as before, I am alone", we were thinking about Tchaikovky's choices of text and wondering about the profound loneliness of those who are not accepted by society as they are and who must hide behind a mask. We were impressed by Myra Huang's skillful accompaniment.

But it was the final song that touched us the most. In "Was I not a little blade of grass", each verse of this strophic song is a metaphor for the suffering of a young girl forced to marry an old man she doesn't love. We couldn't keep from thinking about the forced marriages in the Middle East. Here in the USA personal choice in the area of marriage is taken for granted. Ms. Owens conveyed all the pain in the coloration of her voice.

Baritone Quinn Kelsey , also a recipient of countless awards including two grants from The George London Foundation, followed with Old American Songs, a 1950 oeuvre by Aaron Copeland, settings of text by D. Emmett. Mr. Kelsey possesses a large instrument that produces a full throated sound, one which filled the hall with overtones.  He can swell to a passionate climax and bring it back down to a near whisper.

Copeland will never be our favorite composer of song but we enjoyed the jaunty quality of "The Boatmen's Dance" because the music fits the text, and Mr. Kelsey gave it a fine performance. Similarly, the humor of "The Dodger" was well captured by the vocal line and Mr. Kelsey's personalization.

Opera is the best medium in which to appreciate these ample voices. We loved the duet between Ms. Owens' Aida and Mr. Kelsey's Amonasro--"Cielo! mio padre!" Amonasro puts the screws on his daughter to use her relationship with Radames to get information about the Egyptian army. He uses every manipulative device at his disposal to get what he wants.  As he asserts his power over her, she becomes weaker until she submits. The two artists successfully conveyed the shift in power.

After Mr. Kelsey's sensational delivery of "Prince Yeletsky's Aria" from Tchaikovsky's Pique Dame, Ms. Owens delivered Ariadne's showpiece aria from Richard Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos--"Es gibt ein Reich". Her German was as perfekt as could be and the resonance at the top of her register had the molecules of air dancing around the hall.

The program closed with the duet "Wie aus der Ferne" from Wagner's Der fliegende Holländer. Ms. Owens has a great deal of experience with this role, as she does with that of Ariadne, but Mr. Kelsey was unfortunately using a music stand. This made it visually awkward but did nothing to impair the glorious sound of their voices. The parts where their vocal lines overlapped produced incredible harmonics and gave us goosebumps.

We hated to miss the encores but needed to rush uptown for the Richard Tucker Gala. If you were there and are inclined to add that to this review, it would be appreciated.

(c) meche kroop

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