|Sungah Baek, Emma Lavandier, Scott Mooney, Katrin Bulke, and Arthur Lai
St. John's in the Village was filled to overflowing last night and there seemed to be a frantic search for bridge chairs to accommodate the large crowd that came to hear "A Winter Concert". Fans of soprano Katrin Bulke came from California and New Hampshire. It was quite an event! Since the arrival of Reverend Graeme Napier, the church's sanctuary has been home to some outstanding musical events.
We have been hearing quite a bit of Ms. Bulke lately and have enjoyed every minute of it. She has an engaging stage presence and a versatile instrument that is dazzling in its coloratura but substantial enough for some of the heavier repertory. We might have called last night's concert "Katrin Bulke and Friends".
She was joined by the fine mezzo-soprano Emma Lavandier, tenor Arthur Lai who stepped in for the ailing Darrell Lauer, and baritone Scott Mooney. Both male singers were new to us. Getting a group together which comprises those four fachs presented unlimited opportunity for gorgeous duets and ensembles.
The evening felt like a party. It opened with a champagne toast ("Libiamo" from Verdi's La Traviata), and closed with another champagne toast (the final glorious scene from Johann Strauss' Die Fledermaus).
Ms. Bulke made a splendid Violetta, leaving no doubt about the character's ambivalence. In "È strano...Sempre libera", she frets over accepting Alfredo's offer of love and wonders whether she should reject it and continue her exhausting life of parties and excess. We all know what she chose and how it worked out. The interesting part for us and the reason she is our favorite operatic character is that she grows in maturity.
In Act II, Violetta faces a different decision, introduced by Mr. Mooney. Shall she thumb her nose at Germont père's request for her sacrifizio, or shall she do the altruistic thing and release Alfredo to spare his family the ostracism brought on by a scandal. Miraculously, Ms. Bulke was able to limn this characterological growth through vocal coloration as well as by acting.
She performed another duty to which we would like to call attention. She explained the circumstances of the pieces so that anyone in the audience who was unfamiliar with the aria would be able to grasp the context. She performed this task without written notes but with spontaneous charm.
The other singers did the same, making it a perfect event with which to introduce a newbie to opera. None of the selections were obscure and one could just relax and enjoy hearing one's favorites.
In "Viens Malika...Dôme épais" (from Leo Delibes' Lakmé) Ms. Bulke and Ms. Lavandier harmonized perfectly and towards the end, wandered to the back of the sanctuary with both voices floating upward and filling the room with gorgeous overtones.
The same pair gave voice to the duet "Belle nuit, ô nuit d'amour" from Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffman with Ms. Bulke singing the role of the courtesan Giulietta and Ms. Lavandier singing the role of Nicklausse. We want to hear them do this "off book".
There were other enjoyable duets on the program; Ms. Lavandier took the role of Zerlina and ran with it as Mr. Mooney succeeded in seducing her in "La ci darem la mano" from Mozart's Don Giovanni. Unfortunately, because of the last minute cast change, it was necessary for the singers to be "on the book" and we hope we get to hear them in the future without the music stand interfering with the connection.
The same pair gave us a fine "Dunque io son" from Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia with Rosina catching Figaro unawares by being all prepared with a note for "Lindoro". This was after Ms. Lavandier's captivating performance of "Una voce poco fa" from the same opera; she was particularly fine in the fioritura and demonstrated an impressive upper extension.
Mr. Mooney had his solo in the ironic "Bella siccome un angelo" from Donizetti's Don Pasquale and Mr. Lai had his solo in "Che gelida manina" from Puccini's La Bohême, expressing the emotions more vocally than dramatically.
We particularly enjoyed the final quartet from Verdi's Rigoletto, a quartet we hear several times a month and of which we never tire. Verdi's genius lay in giving each character a different vocal line and different emotions that somehow comes together in a gorgeous tapestry of sound.
Before the finale, we heard the romantic "Lippen Schweigen" from Franz Lehár's Die lustige Witwe performed by Ms. Bulke as Hanna Glawari and Mr. Mooney as Count Danilo--completely charming.
The program closed with the finale from Die Fledermaus with Ms. Lavandier kicking up her dramatic heels as the bored Prince Orlovsky. This brought the evening to a joyful close. It was just how we wanted to spend our Saturday night, in the company of our favorite operatic characters brought to life by some very persuasive performances.
Accompanist for the evening was collaborative pianist Sungah Baek, who sounded particularly fine in the Delibes.
Please note that Ms. Bulke and Ms. Lavandier will have a Gallic/Germanic recital at St. John's on April 11th.
(c) meche kroop