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.

Saturday, February 23, 2019


George London Foundation Awards Competition Finals

Yesterday the George London Foundation Awards Competition Finals were held at the Morgan Library. What we like best about this competition is that the members of the audience get to mingle with the finalists whilst the judges are conferring; we get to share their excitement and to find out what is happening in their burgeoning careers. We also love the idea that every one of the finalists gets recognition and a cash award. These young artists are all winners! We are glad not to be one of the judges; we could never pick some over the others.

If you, dear reader, must know who got the big money, we refer you to the Foundation website. As is our wont, we would like to share our experience of this exciting event without dwelling upon who got the major money. The fact is that every one of the sixteen finalists impressed us with an outstanding performance.

One aspect delighted us no end--the profusion of tenors--all of them different from one another and all superb. Beginning with the "lightest" of the voices, we loved Matthew Swenson's sweet serenade "Ecco ridente in cielo" from Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia. He was ardent and had all the flexibility we would wish for in the fioritura.

Charles Sy gave a dramatically valid interpretation of "Ich baue ganz", Belmonte's third act aria from Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail, which we rarely get to hear outside of an operatic performance. He spun out his tone like a fine silk thread and was outstanding in the embellishments.

L'Africaine, Meyerbeer's grand opera of 1865--his last--is unknown to us; after hearing Matthew White's persuasive performance of Vasco da Gama's aria "O paradis", we decided we would love to see/hear this opera in toto. Mr. White used his entire body to convey the wonders of the island. His pleasing tone was marked by a soaring upper register and his French was quite lovely.

Totally different was Joseph Tancredi's warm sound in German. "Dein ist mein ganzes Herz" from Franz Lehár's Das Land des Lächelns which he performed with great depth of feeling and no strain whatsoever. We admired his superb German diction.

The last tenor we heard was Kyle van Schoonhoven whom we have heard many times; we remember him best for his performance of Peter Grimes' mad scene. We were happy to hear him flex his Wagnerian muscles in "Mein lieber Schwan" from Lohengrin. His powerful instrument is that of a heldentenor and we could understand every word of his German. A fine performance it was!

Speaking of Wagner, it is time to heap accolades on the sopranos. Rebecca Pedersen bowled us over with her "Dich teure Halle" from Tannhäuser. Her large and generous sound accommodated all the vowels with crisp consonants making every word clear.

Sarah Joyce Cooper used her coloratura effectively to limn Violetta's crisis of ambivalence in "E strano...Sempre libera" from Verdi's La Traviata, perhaps our very favorite opera.

Shannon Jennings revealed a facility for verismo in "Stridono Lassù" from Leoncavallo's Pagliacci. Elizabeth Reiter's satisfactory performance of "No word from Tom", from Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress, would have been improved by crisper English diction and some better piano accompaniment.

Olivia Smith's performance of "Deh vieni non tardar" from Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro showed a lot of promise and maturity beyond her tender years. At 18, she was the youngest competitor. We'd love to see her develop this aria in the direction of teasing the eavesdropping Figaro with a bit of exaggeration.

Moving on to those marvelous mezzos, Samantha Gossard's rich sound was just right for "Connais-tu le pays" from Jules Massenet's rarely heard opera Mignon. We are familiar with the Goethe bildungsroman and with the many settings of the Mignon songs but would still love to hear the entire opera. Ms. Gossard's French was lovely and she exhibited plenty of punch in the lower register.

Amanda Lynn Bottoms' instrument is marked by an appealing vibrato and she uses this instrument with artistry, particularly with regard to dynamic variety. Her acting was likewise impressive in the heartbreaking "Charlotte's Letter Scene" from Massenet's Werther. Ms. Bottoms is no slouch when it comes to acting! It was a most convincing performance.

Polixeni Tsiouvaras gave a lovely performance of "Se Romeo t'uccise un figlio" from Bellini's I Capuleti e i Montecchi, another opera which is rarely performed, the plot of which is quite a departure from that of Shakespeare's play. In this aria Romeo offers himself to the Capulets as a substitute son for the one he killed! Ms. Tsiouvaras has a true mezzo texture and has her instrument under perfect control.

Carolyn Sproule also evinced a unique sound and sang Bellini's "Deh! Proteggimi o Dio", Adalgisa's Act I prayer; she sang it with fine technique and great depth of feeling.

Strangely, there were no baritones this year but we heard two low male voices. Bass-baritone Vartan Gabrielian, whom we best remember as Sparafucile at Santa Fe Opera, showed new expansion in his lower register in another aria unknown to us. 

The best part of hearing an aria for the first time is anticipating the pleasure you might find in the entire opera; in this case, having read the libretto, we are not so sure! Perhaps it has been shelved for good reason. In any event,  Mr. Gabrielian gave a measured but forceful performance of the intense "Quand la flamme de l'amour" from Bizet's La jolie fille de Perth.

Finally, we heard Mefistofele's "Vous qui faites l'endormie", known as the "laughing song" from Charles Gounod's Faust, sung by bass Ron Dukes who has a dark covered sound and needs a bit more Gallic line.

The one disappointment of the afternoon was the piano accompaniment. We decline to name the guilty party but his playing was ham-handed and often threatened to drown out the singers. There seemed to be a lack of sensitivity to the score and, worse, a lack of sensitivity to the singers who deserved better.

Fortunately, that did not spoil the pleasure of hearing 16 fine young artists.

(c) meche kroop

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