|MONC Finalists onstage at the Metropolitan Opera|
It was a wild rollercoaster ride yesterday at The Metropolitan Opera when nine young singers competed in the MONC finals. Host Anthony Roth Costanzo, who won in 2009, made an excellent and witty host; he explained to the crowd of opera fans how the National Council is run by volunteers and about how rigorous the selection process is, narrowing down applicants in several stages.We were happy to hear that the competition is extending to include Mexico! There are so many fine voices coming from our southern neighbor!
We love so many things about this competition except for one issue which we will mention later. If you want to know which of the nine singers "won", you won't get that from us. For us, they are all winners.
We love that each singer gets two chances to show different aspects of their artistry. We love the fact that they get generous coaching. Each singer used the stage with "presence" and effectively conveyed the emotions of the character they were portraying. Everyone was linguistically adept. Although all are in their twenties, they are already singing around the world, winning competitions, and participating in young artist development programs. So, winning this competition is another feather in the cap and perhaps a step up on the path to stardom.
Here, we will issue a disclaimer. We confess to being partial to singers we "grew up with", those whom we have been reviewing for a few years. This means students from Juilliard and Manhattan School of Music; both schools were well represented as well they should be.
We are also more involved when a singer's repertory is consistent with our taste in opera, which favors the 19th c. That being said, we make every effort to overcome our biases. So here goes!
Knocking it out of the box was tenor Miles Mykkanen whose very unusual artistry has always delighted us at Juilliard and with New York Festival of Song. Mr. Mykkanen has sung some very unusual arias and duets that show off his unique personality. Yesterday his presentation was on the conservative side but the artistry survived intact. His "Kuda, kuda" from Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin plumbed the depths of Lensky's soul and left us with tears rolling down our face. He used the consonants well to project his gorgeous tone up and out. His Russian was impeccable.
We also loved his "Je crois entendre encore" from Bizet's Les Pécheurs du Perles which was delivered with long Gallic line and perfect French. The dynamics he chose were highly effective as was the vibrato. There was a decrescendo that spun out to a fine thread and high notes that floated up to the balcony and hung in the air. We scarcely breathed!
The bass fach was never one of our favorites, except for James Morris. That is until we heard William Guanbo Su at Manhattan School of Music. Mr. Su is now at Juilliard and did credit to both institutions. The bass voice is considered to be a late maturing fach; we do expect there is a Wotan in his future.
Yesterday he sang the rapid fire "Sorge infausta una procella" from Händel's Orlando and demonstrated plenty of flexibility in the embellishments, in spite of the substantial weight of his voice. Fortunately, his second selection "Vi ravviso" from La Sonnambula showed off his facility with Bellini's long legato lines which were beautifully phrased. We enjoyed hearing both sides of his artistry.
Meghan Kasanders, also known from many recitals at Juilliard, has a sizable soprano and "Dich, teure Halle" from Wagner's Tannhäuser revealed her Wagnerian promise with an heroic quality that never compromised the tender aspect. Her top notes soared and thrilled the ear.
We don't recall hearing her Russian before but she sounded superb in an aria from Tchaikovsky's Pique Dame which she brought to an expressive climax.
Tenor Dashuai Chen, also from Juilliard, is less well known to us but we found the sweetness of his instrument to be immensely appealing. In "Fra poco a me ricovero...Tu che a Dio spiegasti l'ali" from Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, he established his character in the recitativo and never let up. The performance was exquisitely modulated to evoke our sympathy.
In "Salut! demeure chaste et pure" from Gounod's Faust, his French flowed like miel and the delivery emphasized the character's motivation to seduce, rather than a tenor's grandstanding. We loved every minute!
Tenor Piotr Buszewski also has roots in Juilliard. His first selection was "Seul sur la terre" from Donizetti's Dom Sebastien, an aria with which we are not familiar. We loved the sweetness of his tone until he pushed on a few high notes. We enjoyed the way his voice played against the harp.
We preferred his second selection which was in Polish. We never heard Moniuszko's opera The Haunted Manor but we were inspired to learn about the opera; all we could find is that it is a romantic and patriotic comedy written in the 1860's, much loved in Poland but rarely produced outside of Poland. We would love to get one of our local opera companies to mount a production. (But where would they find all those Polish singers?) The melody was gorgeous, the orchestration colorful, the harmonies inventive, and Mr. Buszewski's delivery was stirring, even though we had no idea what it was about. Sometimes we just love the beauty of sound.
Alaysha Fox is a soprano of great promise with a sizable instrument and fine dramatic instincts. We recently heard her at a salon which we enjoyed a great deal but admit to being unprepared for her artistry in a huge house like the Met. She was a highly persuasive Donna Anna in "Or sai chi l'onore" from Mozart's Don Giovanni.
Her second selection was "Ich ging zu ihm" from Korngold's Das Wunder der Heliane, another aria with which are unfamiliar. The overtones were bouncing around the Met in great profusion. It made us want to hear this opera.
Soprano Elena Villalón was the youngest singer of the group but already quite accomplished. She made a lovely Giulietta in "Oh! quante volte" from Bellini's I Capuleti e i Montecchi. She and the harp made some lovely music, the harp with its arpeggi and Ms. Villalón with a lovely legato line. The coloratura was splendid and the embellishments in the final section very well handled.
We were even more impressed by Sophie's aria "Ich bin Euer Liebchen sehr verbunden" from Richard Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier. Her voice literally sparkled and the top soared to the stratosphere.
Mezzo-soprano Michaela Wolz performed "Addio addio, o miei sospiri" from Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice with some thrilling melismatic singing. So much for Gluck's rebellion against ornamentation!
She delighted the audience with Stefano's aria "Que fais-tu blanche tourterelle?" from Gounod's Roméo et Juliette in which she pranced around the stage wielding an imaginary sword and created a very believable character. We have one quibble. If a female singer performs a breeches role wearing a man's suit, she shouldn't have to do it in pumps with heels!
Thomas Glass utilized a fine lyric baritone in the aria "Captain Ahab? I must speak with you". Although he made every word clear, he couldn't make us want to see this Jake Heggie opera Moby Dick. We cannot get a good idea of a singer's voice in English.
Fortunately, he turned to French for his second selection, the oft heard aria sung by Valentin in Gounod's Faust--"Avant de quitter ces lieux" which succeeded in giving us a better picture of his vocal assets. He created a long lyrical line even when the orchestra depicts a military march. He colored his voice differently for each section, which we appreciated.
Whilst the judges met to do their thing, bass-baritone Christian Van Horn, a winner from 2003 who is having a successful career at The Met, entertained us with "Ella giammai m'amo" from Verdi's Don Carlo. It was technically fine but failed to limn King Philip II's character, neither the evil filicidal side nor the pathetic whimper of an old man.
Maestro Carlo Rizzi's handling of the always wonderful Metropolitan Opera Orchestra was always brilliant. Whatever he asked for, they delivered.
And then...the "winners" were announced and this is the part where we tell you what we do not like about this competition. Five "winners" are announced and the other four are left hanging out to dry. If there were three winners chosen out of the nine it would not be so egregious. Just sayin'!
(c) meche kroop