|Felix Jarrar, Scott Bromschwig, Zach Elmassian, Tatianna Overtone, Inbal Karmi Milliger, Betsy Diaz, |
and Mario Arevalo
Tenor Mario Arevalo has a heart as big as his voice. Not only does he maintain an international singing career but he finds time to run Una Voz Un Mundo, an arts initiative which he founded; its mission is to support humanitarian aid, arts advocacy, and the celebration of cultural diversity. Last night at St. John's in the Village, he presented a concert to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Riot. This celebratory concert was called This is Us.
With a concept not very different from that of the recently reviewed Manning the Canon, composers of confirmed or suspected homosexuality were featured. Many of the songs were written about "the love that dare not speak its name" in disguised form. What was once hidden and repressed is now openly celebrated--which is all to the good.
We were quite taken with Cuban-American soprano Betsy Diaz, one of those big beautiful women with big beautiful voices. Let's call them BBWWBBV since it goes along with the recent expansion of LGB into LGBTQIA. Ms. Diaz sings with power and subtlety, an unusual combination. She gave an exciting rendering of Richard Strauss' "Morgen" with sizable tone and fine phrasing.
Just as exciting and more accessible was "I Could Have Danced All Night" from Frederick Loew's My Fair Lady. We were less enthralled by "Maria la O" by Ernesto Lecuona, but only because, as many times as we have seen it, we have been unable to relate to the telling of the tale. Lecuona shared a Cuban heritage with the singer.
Bass-baritone Zach Elmassian also has an exciting voice and his performance of "I Am What I Am" from Jerry Herman's La Cage aux Folles, began with parlando and opened up to an intense statement completely in line with Pride Week. The lyrics are as clever as they are meaningful.
He invested Lecuona's "Siboney" with as much sabor as a gringo could muster and we enjoyed the passion as much as the syncopated rhythm.
Mr. Arevalo performed Reynaldo Hahn's much treasured mélodie "L'Heure Exquise" with fine French phrasing and variety of dynamics. But he really got his groove on with Juan Gabriel's "Costumbre" the repetitive lyrics of which came across as a "popular" song, a category which we consider to be an "art song" when sung well without amplification.
Soprano Tatianna Overtone lost us in the first half of the program by attempting to perform Schubert's gorgeous "Ganymed" holding the score. This, as we have pointed out many times, not only restricts gesture but also impairs connection with the audience. However, she redeemed herself in the second half of the program with a stunning delivery of Ethel Smyth's "What if I Were Young Again" with good English diction and enough resonance to live up to her surname.
By the same token, mezzo-soprano Inbal Karmi Milliger lost us by attempting "The Dreamer" from Felix Jarrar's song cycle Eclipse. Her performance was impaired by being "on the book" and lacked involvement and energy. We liked the music and Brittany Goodwin's lyrics a lot, but found our attention drifting to Mr. Jarrar who was the excellent pianist for the evening. We were particularly puzzled by this wan delivery, especially since we are under the impression that she performed the premiere of the work. Such an honor would seem to require committing the work to memory!
What struck us was how excellently she performed George Gershwin's "The Lorelei". She had a wonderful time with the clever lyrics of this racy song, using her face and body along with her voice. We want to see her give the same involvement to Jarrar's work!
Baritone Scott Bromschwig also had an opportunity to sing one of Jarrar's compositions "A Nocturne in Ulster County", from a very personal song cycle--The Ulster County Songbook, for which he wrote the lyrics himself. In this cycle, Jarrar moves from a position of turmoil and pain to one of peace and acceptance in the final song "I One of Many" which was given a fine performance by Mr. Arevalo.
Mr. Bromschwig demonstrated a good command of Russian in Onegin's aria in which he returns Tatiana's letter. This was very welcome to our ears since we just heard and reviewed Eugene Onegin last night at the Eurasia Festival. Tchaikovsky's romanticism is always a gift to our ears.
We also got to hear Mr. Jarrar perform a solo piano work, the evocative "Jeux d'eau" by Maurice Ravel.
The evening ended with the entire ensemble joining forces for "Seasons of Love" from Jonathan Larson's Rent.