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.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018


Cantanti Project at United Palace of Cultural Arts

One would think that a rainy Monday evening would be a good time to stay home with a good book or "Netflix and chill". Not in our book!  It was the perfect time to spend a couple hours with Cantanti Project, a group we always enjoy. Last night's recital was just about the best evening this wonderful group of artists has scheduled and a real highlight of the season, one we wouldn't have missed for the world.

The program was entirely in Spanish, a language we love for its singability, which rivals that of Italian, and its emphasis on love in all its varied manifestations. The works we heard--some familiar and some new to us--spanned several centuries (from the 17th c. Baroque to the present time) and several genres (opera, art song, zarzuela, folk songs, popular songs). We agree with Steven Blier of New York Festival of Song that no one genre surpasses another. Good songs stand on equal footing no matter what genre they belong to. The songs on last night's program originated in Spain and in the Nuevo Mundo.

The program was like a string of pearls or precious gems; we will not have time or space to cover them all so, dear reader, allow us to focus on the few that made the most intense impression.

Soprano Maria Brea performed "Me llaman la primarosa" from the zarzuela El barbero de Sevilla, a "meta" work about a company producing the Rossini opera. Her lively personality filled out the song and her bright and sizable instrument soared to the upper reaches of the lavish lobby of the United Palace of Cultural Arts, filling the space with overtones. Her flirtatious character shares some qualities with Musetta but is less arrogant. There were vocal fireworks aplenty with trills, swooping scales and prolonged vocalises. We loved the part in which the piano of Principal Music Advisor William Lewis echoed the motif of the vocal part.

Tenor Mario Arévalo possesses a praiseworthy sound, augmented by fine technique and a warm presence that invites you into his sound-world. Although we enjoyed the forceful popular song from his homeland El Salvador, we were most impressed by his romantic delivery of the art song "A ti" composed by Colombian Jaime León. Although it is a product of the 20th c. there is no shortage of melodic movement and Mr. Arévalo invested it with lots of romantic warmth, fullness of tone, dynamic variety, and depth of feeling.

Mezzo-soprano Linda Collazo showed off her strength in the lower register in "La borrachita de amor" a Baroque song by Spaniard Sebastián Durón and her story-telling skills in the tender Ecuadorian folk song "Yaravi", to which she gave a poignant ending.

Yet another Andean folk song, "Triste", arranged by Argentinean Alberto Ginastera, was beautifully interpreted by soprano Marisa Karchin. This is a lament that begins and ends with a vocalise and Ms. Karchin sang it with a lovely vibrato and spun out the ending to a wispy pianissimo.  Magical!

Lyric coloratura soprano Joyce Yin, Artistic Director of Cantanti Project, used her artistry to interpret "El Viaje Definitivo", a meditation on death by 20th c. Puerto Rican composer Ernesto Cordero. She gave a stunning a cappella introduction and finale, accompanied by guitarist George Benton England.

For a taste of humor we enjoyed mezzo-soprano Heather Jones' lively performance of Joaquin Rodrigo's "En Jerez de la Frontera", the tale of a faithful wife who rejects the advances of an importuning suitor. We never knew that the composer of so many beloved works for symphony and guitar also wrote art songs!

We thought we knew all about Pablo Sorozábal's zarzuela La taberna del puerto but we didn't know the song "Despierta Negro", a warning to the black man to watch out for the white man who would enslave him. Bass-baritone Jonathan Z. Harris sang it with clear intent and round deep tone.

There were some stunning duets, of which our favorite was "Niñas que a vender flores" from Francisco Asenjo Barbieri's zarzuela Los diamantes de la corona. Accompanied by Mr. Lewis, the voices of Ms. Karchin and Ms. Collazo blended in perfect harmony.

There were several baroque selections on the program which were accompanied by Dorian Baroque, comprising a pair of violins, harpsichord, cello, and the always impressive theorbo. Maestro Dylan Sauerwald conducted from the harpsichord.

We could go on and on about the other selections but we hope, dear reader, that we have given you a little taste of everything on this lavish musical buffet which had something for everyone's taste.  We hope we have tempted you to join Cantanti Project for some of their future events. We ourself are looking forward to Händel's Teseo coming up in the Spring.

(c) meche kroop

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