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.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018


Nathaniel LaNasa and Helaine Liebman at the National Opera Center\

The inauguration of a new vocal series is music to our ears both literally and figuratively.  Shall we say "fig/lit"? As so many talented singers are doing these days, young artists are not waiting around to be cast but are casting themselves in starring roles. We heartily approve of this trend.

Ms. Liebman's idea is to update the concert experience and to encourage music lovers to attend with an informal approach.  One helps oneself to a glass of wine, one meets and chats with the artists, one listens, learns, and enjoys.  One is even encouraged to ask questions and to submit suggestions for future recitals of which we hope there will be many.

In place of titles and libretti, Ms. Liebman introduced each song in an engaging fashion. We felt as if we were invited to a friend's home for a party with entertainment. And what entertainment it was! In a beautifully balanced program, we heard opera, art song, and cabaret--all serving to demonstrate the versatility of this excellent young soprano. Last year she performed a fine Micaƫla for Amore Opera and we also heard her several months ago in ARE Opera's Gianni Schicchi. It was about time for us to see another side of her artistry.

The program opened with Ilia's aria from Mozart's Idomeneo--"Padre, germani, addio". Ms. Liebman conveyed all the ambivalence of the Trojan princess who has lost everything and is now a captive of the Greeks whom she hates, except for Idamante, the son of Idomeneo. With a bright resonant sound and the subtle use of expressive dynamics, we learned everything we needed to know about the character.

Four songs by Franz Liszt allowed the artist to show off her fine French. The texts were all by Victor Hugo and all were about love, but the moods were different.  Ms. Liebman employed a warm vibrato for "S'il est un charmant gazon" and the delicacy of Mr. LaNasa's piano augmented the romantic feeling. 

"Oh! Quand je dors" has an exquisite melody and builds to a thrilling climax.  Here, Mr. LaNasa's piano made much of some lovely arpeggi. "Comment, disent-ils" was delivered with charm and personality. Plus, there was a trill to thrill. "Enfant, si j'etais roi" had a different expansive mood and an insistent accompaniment on the piano.

How does one choose Schubert songs to perform from his oeuvre of over 600 lieder? Actually, it doesn't matter much because one cannot go too far wrong with anything Schubert wrote.  We found the three selections we heard a good "tasting menu". "An die Musik" was sung with earnest simplicity. The sentiment requires no embroidery.

"Gretchen am Spinnrade" in which Mr. LaNasa's piano gave us the obsessive background of the text as well as the relentless spinning wheel, allowed Ms. Liebman some moments of erotic rapture as she imagined Faust's kiss. This had us wishing that Schubert had written an entire opera based on the Faust legend.

In "Die junge Nonne", we were given a very clear character study and we knew exactly why this troubled young woman chose a cloistered life.

The Kurt Weill song from Street Scene seemed like a cabaret song.  We understood every word of "What Good Would the Moon Be" and enjoyed the melody.  This was not so for two selections from Daughters of Britannia by Iain Bell.  We could only catch a word here and there. The sounds were interesting and we liked the propulsive piano writing and some interesting figuration but the heroines are part of British history and so unknown to us that we really didn't care about them.

We won't mind if we never hear those songs again but the Rachmaninoff that followed was enchanting. We cannot believe that we used to think that Russian was an ugly language!  The more Russian songs we hear the better we love the sound. "Z'des khorosho" was particularly lovely.

"Siren" had a repetitive figure in the right hand of the piano that resonated particularly strongly with us.  But our personal favorite was (and probably always will be) "Ne poy krasavitsa pri mne" in which the text expresses nostalgia for a love left behind, accompanied by the most haunting melody. There is a vocalise in this song that always gets us right in the heart! We love the way the melody in the voice alternates with the melody in the piano.

"Ditja, kak cvetok ti prekrana" is Rachmaninoff's setting of a translation of the tender Heinrich Heine poem "Du bist wie eine blume" which was set by Robert Schumann and about a hundred other composers.  The program ended with the very timely "Vesenniye vody" or "Spring Waters" as we know it. This song was bursting with excitement as the snow melted and the streams produced white water.

We even got an encore, "Someone to Watch Over Me" by George and Ira Gershwin from their 1926 musical Oh, Kay! We love to hear American musical theater treated with the same care as lieder and chansons. It was the perfect end to a beautiful recital.

Watch our FB page (Voce di Meche) and we will let you know about the next installment of Salon de la Voix which we believe will take place in June in Brooklyn. You won't want to miss it!

(c) meche kroop

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