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.

Sunday, April 14, 2019


Saratoga Young Artists

Guest Review by Cullen Gandy

Opera Saratoga put on the last of a series of concerts featuring their storied young artist program, last night at the National Opera Center. It performed a dual role, in a sense, as it also served to promote their upcoming 2019/2020 seasonal line up; programming an evening of songs that were composed by the same composers as are featured during the course of the opera season. In effect, the audience (comprising many of the opera company’s patrons) was exposed to all of the things that would make their experience there memorable.

It was, essentially, a season in microcosm — sung by three singers who represent the second oldest program for young artists in the United States. The idea of the young artist program is to give singing-actors, usually fresh from their university or conservatory studies, a new opportunity to incorporate what they know, and to learn vital new skills in a more professional setting.

Tenor Zackery Morris kicked the evening off with a small set of little known Donizetti art songs. The size and timbre of the voice is quite unique, and should be well suited to some of the light-lyric bel canto roles that he will be covering, in Daughter of the Regiment. The technicality of the singing, while not without some flaws concerning the negotiation of certain passages, had a good base. He drew out some lovely messe di voce in Donizetti’s "La lontananza", and displayed a surprisingly meatier sound down in the lowest end of the spectrum, when it was demanded of him.

But the largest impression that he made on me was with the dramatic chops he put on display in his English selection-- Ian-Gordon’s "We will always walk together". At one point, I didn’t know if he were legitimately about to weep (for some personal reason), or if he was really just that engaged. His bio stated that he also felt well-at-home in the realm of musical theater, and I concur. His strengths definitely portend a cross-over type of career, should he wish it.

Sydney Anderson, the soprano, was perhaps the evening’s most solid vocal technician. There didn’t appear to be any audible shifts or seams between her vocal registers, and the breath control always created an evenly supported sound, throughout. There was an especially smooth, full-bodied sound coming out in the higher sections of her voice, that made me want to hear more.

I liked her attention to detail in the textual interpretation, too. You can tell that she put in all of the work to translate every word of the German, in the Humperdinck set Liebesorakel. There was specificity in the acting that is only explained by this kind of word-for word translation of the text. If I had to pick on something, I think it would be that she seemed, at times, to have through-rehearsed gesturing of the songs — I remember thinking "She’s gonna make a plucking gesture", a few seconds before her plucking gesture in "Blauveilchen". That being said, all of her performances were earnest, and she engaged well with the audience.

In his opening set, Garrett Obrycki offered Four Romances opus 42, composed by Rimsky Korsakov. Russian music is a genre that I hold particularly close to my heart, as it is carries with it a subversive passion that, I would argue, really can’t be found in other art music. His voice has a good size and impact for this kind of repertory. He has a sturdy, fiery kind of sound, but also showed great sensitivity in interpretations; as witnessed in the elegy "Редеет облаков летучая гряда" (The clouds began to scatter). There was a little bit of rigidity in the periphery of the range of his voice sometimes, and that occasionally manifested itself in the posture.

Diction, in this language, sometimes can be fuzzy; especially when it comes to non-American singers. American audiences usually wouldn’t know the difference between a good idiomatic Russian sound from a bad one. Being hyper-vigilant, I was generally pleased with this effort, though. You could see attention to initial consonants in such words like черный/chorni (“black”); and the post consonantal “j” glides that often present prior to vowels, like in Сердечной (sort of like, “heart-filled-ly”). Jets of spit were often flying out with the articulations. It always good to see stuff like that, developing in emerging talent.

The final offering of the night was an ensemble arrangement of the well-known Ian-Gordon song, "Joy". It was fun to see the artists let loose, and interact a bit with one another. They harmonized well, and injected a good deal of energy and movement into the work, to send everyone off.

The production of the event was top-notch. translations were projected on screens above the performers, and it scrolled with the text as they sang. They recorded the concert event, so that the artists could use the recordings for promotional reasons. A small banquet/wine tasting was held after the event was over, to help familiarize the donors with the artists. This is the kind of care that companies give to full on productions, and it really shows how much they value their investment in the young artist program.

It’s funny — I had the occasion to meet Lawrence Edelson (the general director of the Opera) yesterday evening. He was pleasant and professional, giving small speeches about the nature of the work that they do there. After the show, I went over to the bathroom to wash my hands, and I could hear him going over into the green-room (where the young artists were gathering their things). He said something to the effect of, “You did papa proud!” It was spoken in a jovial, familiar kind of way — the way that someone would expect a friend would encourage someone.

These folks really are passionate about this work, and, if you have a chance, you should definitely check out Opera Saratoga’s upcoming 2019/20 season.

(c) meche kroop

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