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 21, 2018

(Not your same old) OPERA IN THE PARK

Opera Lovers at Opera Under the Arch

When we first arrived in New York, summertime meant opera in the park.  Opera meant The Metropolitan Opera and park meant Central Park. We would go early with blankets and stake our claim as close to the stage as possible, share wine and culinary delights, then listen to some of the biggest names in opera performing concert versions of our favorite operas.

Times have changed and it's been many years since those festivities ended. But something new and wonderful has happened that gave us equivalent pleasure. Up and coming baritone Sung Shin has been producing outdoor Opera Under the Arch of Washington Square Park and we finally were able to make time to listen to a number of rising stars in a wide variety of arias and ensembles.

There were a number of features that pleased us enormously. First of all, the singers were all young artists that we have enjoyed at the local music conservatories, predominantly from Manhattan School of Music but also from Mannes College of Music. Secondly, the choice of arias and duets was perfectly curated for ease of appreciation. We never scorn popularity! Finally, watching the rapt faces of the audience and the growing size of the crowd assured us that the audience for opera is not diminishing.

The piano was placed under the arch and the acoustics were surprisingly superb, obviating the need for amplification. Singers stood atop the piano and turned around so that the audience on both sides of the arch could see and hear, lending new meaning to the concept of "opera in the round". Segments were kept to under 45 minutes with short breaks in between. Some folks sat on the concrete and some stood for two hours. No one walked out.  No one talked. No one complained. No one texted! But we did see a lot of photos being taken although it was rather dark.

Each singer had something special and unique to offer but some performances seemed to drive people wild. Jose Maldonado is a stage animal and, without artifice, knows how to bring an audience to their feet. "Largo al Factotum" from Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia" was just such a performance.

Accompanied by the terrific pianist Tamara Kim, he wowed us with a highly emotional rendering of "Amor vida de mi vida" from the zarzuela Maravilla, by Federico Moreno Torroba. This was written for the tenor fach but that didn't stop Mr. Maldonado who has an amazing range.  Actually we are most familiar with him as a bass! As an encore to the entire evening, he performed Agustín Lara's 1932 song "Granada". 

No less notable was the sensational "Habanera" from Bizet's Carmen, given a sultry and seductive performance by mezzo-soprano Xeni Tsiouvaras, who showed us a very different aspect of her artistry in  "Ah guarda sorella" from Mozart's Cosi fan tutte. Her Dorabella was perfectly matched with the stunning soprano of Yvette Keong (whom we just heard in a master class) taking the role of Fiordiligi.

We heard quite a bit more from Ms. Keong who was especially charming as Norina in "Quel guardo il cavaliere" from Donizetti's Don Pasquale, an aria that she filled with humor and spunky personality and a trill to thrill.  Moreover, she made a lovely Zerlina being seduced by the Don Giovanni of brilliant bass Hidenori Inoue in "La ci darem la mano".

It was good to see Mr. Inoue in a charming role where his matinée idol appearance was useful. (He is usually cast as an old man for which his voice is perfect; but verisimilitude requires tons of makeup.) Last night he sounded great as Don Pasquale in Donizetti's comic opera of the same name, with Sung Shin lending his splendid baritone to the role of Dr. Malatesta in "Cheti cheti immantinente". Humor and patter singing were well negotiated.

In a more serious vein, he essayed the role of the Commendatore dragging the Don Giovanni of Mr. Shin off to hell (under the piano) whilst Leporello (Victor Jaquez) cowered in fear. 

It was fun to see the same role sung by different people. There were several scenes from Mozart's Cosi fan tutte spread over the course of the evening. We have already mentioned the sisters' duet in which they boast about their fiancés but the opera opens with the two fiancé's comparing notes about the two sisters. In "La mia Dorabella". Tenor Pavel Suliandziga, whose work we have long admired, made a fine Ferrando, matching well with Mr. Shin's Guglielmo.  I wanted them and the two aforementioned sisters to do the entire opera!

Well, we didn't get that but we did get another ensemble in which the sisters (Ms. Tziouvaras with Madalyn Luna taking the role of Fiordiligi) wish the departing fiancés favorable voyage in "Soave sia il vento" with the worldly wise Don Alfonso sung by Mr. Shin.  The trio was marked by glorious blending of voices. We couldn't help noticing that our evening was marked by sweet breezes!

There were also scenes from Verdi's Rigoletto with Mr. Suliandziga playing the bad boy Duke and soprano Grace Hwoang doing justice to the romantic "E il sol dell'anima". Not many duets offer both singers opportunities for such graceful melismatic singing! Ms. Hwoang used her sweet soprano to good effect in Gilda's "Cara nome".

Ms. Hwoang was lovely as Ophelia in her duet with Mr. Shin from Thomas' Hamlet--"Doute de la lumière". The French was fine and the mood was tender.

Speaking of languages other than Italian, Mr. Suliandziga performed "Dein ist mein gazes herz" from Lehar's Das Land des Lächelns in crisp German. Also in German was Blondchen's aria "Durch Zartlichkeit" from Mozart's  Die Entführung aus dem Serail, winningly performed by soprano Show Yang who made the perfect spunky ingenue.

Soprano Izzy Vigliotti and mezzo-soprano Lu Liu harmonized beautifully in the "Evening Prayer" from Humperdinck's Hansel und Gretel.

Two selections were performed from Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito. Ms. Vigliotti as Servilia balanced well with the substantial mezzo of Jordyn Goldstein singing Annio in "Ah! Perdona al prima affetto".  Those are the nice characters. The not so nice characters that will need to be offered clemency by Tito are Sesto and Vitellia. Ms. Luna sang the latter whilst Ms. Liu sang the former in the the duet "Come ti piace imponi". Both duets were excellent. 

Perhaps everyone's favorite female duet is the famous "Dôme épais" from Leo Delibes' Lakme--also known as "The Flower Song". Ms. Liu and Ms. Yang sounded superb together and got the evening's entertainment off to a fine start.

Finally, tenor Omar Bowey sang "Deep River" with spiritual commitment. Pianists for the evening were Andrew King, Curtis Serafin, and Tamara Kim.

The quality of the performances was remarkably high and if what we have written sounds good to you, there will be lots more to come.  Next Saturday's Opera Under the Arch will begin at 7:00. Bring a cushion and stay for the evening!

(c) meche kroop

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