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.

Friday, May 18, 2018


Gergely Bogányi, Réka Kristóf, and Äneas Humm

It has been a full five years since we heard Hungarian song. It was a Juilliard Vocal Honors Recital and soprano Lilla Heinrich-Szasz sang a Hungarian encore. We have wanted to hear more Hungarian vocal music for five years and Wednesday night our wishes were granted.

In 2015, the Armel Opera Festival partnered with Virtuosos, a televised Hungarian talent show, providing mentoring and performance opportunities for winners to make their debut in international concert halls.

New Yorkers were the fortunate beneficiaries of this program which introduced us to the splendid soprano Réka Kristóf. We have a sense that Virtuosos bears no resemblance to America's Got Talent but since we've never seen either television show we cannot say. What we can say is that Ms. Kristóf's talent is undeniable and that her program was compelling.

She has a sizable instrument and a lot of stage presence. Clearly her training has made the most of her gifts and we found ourself admiring her powerful sound, the ping-y top, the rich vibrato, the exquisite dynamic control, and her versatility.

The recital opened and closed with exhibitions of madness. In "D'Oreste, d'Ajace ho in seno i tormenti", from Mozart's Idomeneo, Elektra lets loose her wish for revenge. And in Richard Strauss' "Der Frühlingsfeier", a group of female pagans are expressing some fanatical lust for Adonis. There was no doubt about Ms. Kristóf's passionate delivery with its notes of wildness.

In a show of versatility she gave us a frightened Micaëla, reassuring herself of her fearlessness as she searches for her Don Jose in the mountain pass outside of Seville. The two sides of her nature were clearly limned.

Yet another manifestation of versatility occurred when she sang Rosalinde's aria "Klänge der Heimat" from Johann Strauss' Die Fledermaus. Here, Rosalinde is laying on the Hungarian Countess act with a trowel, pranking her gullible husband. 

But Strauss' opera is in German and we wanted to hear some Hungarian music.  And we did! We heard an aria from Bedrich Smetana's The Bartered Bride and several songs by Zoltán Kodály, including a melodic song of longing and a humorous song in which Ms. Kristóf and her excellent accompanist Gergely Bogányi both imitated the sound of a cricket. There was also a song by Béla Bartók.

It was a new sensation for us, listening to songs in a language of which we knew not a single word. There were no titles and no translations in the program but the dramatic skills of the artists got the meaning across. We might add that as strange as the words look on the page, they sound beautiful when sung. We attribute this to the singer's artistry but also the ability of the composers to wed text to music.

The second singer on the program was Swiss baritone Äneas Humm, about whom we have written a great deal. We are mostly familiar with his lieder performances so it was a special treat to hear him sing "Sorge infausta una procella" from Händel's Orlando. Along with a lovely legato, we observed a lot of flexibility in the fioritura.

In contrast with this tempestuous outpouring, there was the sweetness of Richard Strauss' "Breit über mein Haupt". But our admiration was brought to its peak by a series of duets by Robert Schumann, with the voices of the two singers blending beautifully. 

When you put a soprano in a room with a baritone you just know you are going to hear "La ci darem la mano" from Mozart's Don Giovanni. Mr. Humm made a very confident seducer without a shred of malice and Ms. Kristóf made an all-too-willing Zerlina. We love the way different singers give different interpretations of the characters!

Attention must be drawn to the virtuoso pianism of Mr. Bogányi. Performing on a custom designed space age piano that looked as if it would be taking off for another planet, he dazzled the audience with Franz Liszt's arrangement of the melodies from Don Giovanni. There were rapid-fire ascending and descending scales, trills and turns of every variety. Now we understand why Liszt was called "the rock star of his age". Surely Mr. Bogányi was channeling Liszt!

(c) meche kroop

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