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.

Thursday, November 8, 2018


Michael Fennelly, Hubert Zapiór, Xiaomeng Zhang, Jane Shaulis, William Guanbo Su, Felicia Moore, and Helena Brown

In any given year there is a "crop" of promising young singers who seem to garner awards from all of the award giving foundations. They are generally emerging artists that we have been writing about for a year or several years. They are surely going on to bigger and better things in their lives but seem to be at the peak of their enthusiasm and skills, needing only the polish one acquires by being out in the world, away from the sheltering environment of the conservatory and young artist programs. Most of them have a lot of performing experience already.

Personally we experience a kind of bittersweet feeling, knowing that they will probably leave New York and, when they return they will be onstage at The Metropolitan Opera and we may never be up close and personal again.

But last night we were very up close and personal with five young singers whom we absolutely adore. They were all award winners of the Opera Index 2018 Vocal Competition who were kind enough to entertain at the annual membership party, in spite of the fact that they were auditioning the following morning for the Met National Council.

Sixteen singers were chosen from a field of 270 applicants and $55,000. was awarded. President Jane Shaulis gave a warm welcome to the gathering of the tribe, comprising luminaries in the field and aficionados of opera. The well known and excellent pianist Michael Fennelly was the accompanist.

Soprano Helena Brown, whom we reviewed often over the past five years has made a successful transition from mezzo-soprano to soprano, retaining the rich mezzo texture whilst expanding the upper register to a glorious and powerful sound. She performed "Dich, teure halle" from Richard Wagner's Tannhaüser with a huge sound, glorious vibrato, and fine pacing. The overtones bounced around the room and filled our ears.

We felt so fortunate to get another opportunity to hear baritone Xiaomeng Zhang sing in Russian, after his excellent performance at a Juilliard liederabend last month. We have been writing about Mr. Zhang for several years, since his days at Manhattan School of Music; his progress has been a real treat for us to witness.  Last night he performed "Vy mne pisali" from Act I of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin in which the eponymous hero must give Tatyana his "sermon" or "Dutch uncle talk".

Mr. Zhang sounds wonderful in Russian, although our initial admiration for his artistry centered around his facility in bel canto. But Mr. Zhang is marvelously versatile in his talent and we admired the texture of his tone, his phrasing and the most gorgeously floated final note.

Bass William Guanbo Su is another artist we have been writing about and enjoying in a variety of roles. He made a marvelous impression as Mefistofele in Gounod's Faust; we think he enjoyed himself performing as much as we enjoyed listening. The devilish laughter he produced in "Vous qui faites l'endormie" impressed us as much as the rich depth of his tone and his captivating stage presence.

Soprano Felicia Moore portrayed Ariadne in exactly the way we think Richard Strauss wanted her portrayed in "Es gibt ein Reich" from his Ariadne auf Naxos; the character is a diva who takes herself seriously.  Ms. Moore has a large soaring top yet never fails in the lower register. She sang with brilliant tone and sufficient grandeur. There are a lot of repeated notes in this aria and she managed to subtly alter the color from one to the next. We have heard her sing so many different roles and always admire her versatility.

Baritone Hubert Zapiór repeated the "Largo al Factotum" which he just performed in his prize winning performance at the Marcella Sembrich competition. Were we bored? Definitely not! The way Rossini wrote this aria from Il barbiere di Siviglia, there is ample room for subtle variations and Mr. Zapiór's performance last night was subtly different from that of three days earlier.  It seemed very much "of the moment" and delighted us immensely. His Figaro is a man we'd enjoy knowing.

We were completely satisfied by the program but our lily got gilded and our cake got iced. Mr. Zhang returned with an encore, a song in Mandarin which was, on the surface, about the Yangtze River; symbolically it was about the passage of time and the passage of our lives--very pensive and finely sung.

Ms. Brown also provided an encore, a riveting performance of "My Man's Gone Now" from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. Her tone and words--every one of which was crystal clear in spite of the high tessitura--went right to the gut and left us a bit shaken.  Good art can do that!

Just to ensure the recital ended on a happier note, Mr. Su performed a terrifically romantic Broadway song from Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific--"Some Enchanted Evening", leaving us totally enchanted.

It was a stellar evening and left us glowing. Right now our thoughts are with these young artists and their auditions. In our opinion, they are all winners.

(c) meche kroop

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