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.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019


Career Bridges Winners

The designation "gala" is used rather loosely these days but the dazzling evening we experienced last night at The Metropolitan Club was gala in every sense of the word. Luminaries of Planet Opera gathered in force to celebrate the next generation of opera stars, recipients of awards from The Schuyler Foundation for Career Bridges.

The Foundation has been performing a vital service for 17 years now. Founded by David Schuyler Bender and Barbara Meister Bender with the mission of providing vital assistance to young opera singers as they transition from training to stardom. Awardees receive three years of mentoring, financial support, and performance opportunities. A combination of wise selection and this assistance has had a phenomenal rate of success.

What is more, for three years they have provided outreach to youngsters in their Kids Love Opera program, reaching 7000 primary school students at an age that almost guarantees a life-long interest in opera. These kids will grow up and provide the next generation of opera goers. Hooray for the Foundation!

The Benders are one of those beautiful couples--beautiful inside as well as outside. Their welcoming remarks got the evening off to a wonderful start. Guests forgot the damp and dreary weather and basked in the delightful entertainment, which was dispersed between the courses of dinner. Most of the singers were this year's winners except for Teresa Castillo (2017) and Jorell Williams, a winner from 2008, who showed us what happens to the artists when they complete the program.

Ms. Castillo opened the program with a Händel aria that showed off her flexible coloratura in harmony with the trumpet of David Glukh. Mary Beth Nelson performed our favorite Rossini aria--"Una voce poco fa"--demonstrating a personality as pleasing as her voice. Similarly, our favorite Donizetti aria--"Una furtiva lagrima"-- was performed by Tianchi Zhang, with fine dynamic shading. 

From Linda di Chamounix, an opera we know little of, Erika Baikoff sang the familiar "O luce di quest' anima", with fine fioritura. Mr. Williams and guest Ganson Salmon had excellent interpersonal chemistry as Marcello and Rodolfo in "O Mimi tu più non torni".

Receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award was centenarian Anton Coppola who looks fit and hearty. Apparently, keeping active is a means of staying youthful. We most recently heard Maestro Coppola conduct a master class for Martina Arroyo's Prelude to Performance program. His teaching was astute and perfectly personalized.

After the break for Maestro Coppola's award, Ms. Castillo and Mr. Williams gave us the delightful "Papagena, Papageno" duet, an audience favorite. We loved the conclusion in which Mr. Williams carried Ms. Castillo off in his arms. John Noh captivated us with his "Kuda, kuda", giving it a psychologically sensitive performance, enhanced by an affecting decrescendo.

Hannah Friesen's sweet sound was perfect for "Sul fil d'un soffrio etesio" from Verdi's Falstaff. Jongwon Han's secure baritone was perfect for the "Catalogue Aria" from Mozart's Don Giovani which he enhanced with appropriate expression and gesture. The difficult quartet from Verdi's Rigoletto was made to sound easy by Ms. Castillo, Ms. Nelson, Mr. Salmon, and Mr. Williams.

Superstar soprano Lauren Flanagan sadly did not sing but spoke eloquently, introducing the recipient of the Distinguished Achievement Award--superstar Isabel Leonard about whom we have written since we began writing. She is as beautiful as her voice and incredibly gracious.

We were happy to hear more of Rigoletto when Alec Carlson took on the role of the licentious Duke in the famous "Questa o quella". Anne Montgomery performed Lehar's "Liebe du Himmel auf Erden". Gabriel Hernandez gave us "Here I Stand" from Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress. The aptly named Kelly Singer gave a deliciously dramatic performance of "Non, monsieur mon mari" from Poulenc's comic opera Les Mamelles de Tirésius.

The tireless Ted Taylor as Music Director did a bang up job accompanying all of these gifted young singers in such a great variety of material.

The entire group joined Mr. Williams for the highly appropriate "The Impossible Dream" from Man of La Mancha. The reason we thought it appropriate is that becoming an opera singer seems like an impossible dream but people like The Benders are making it possible!

(c) meche kroop

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