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.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019


International Vocal Arts Institute--an evening of operatic arias

Last night was the second of two evenings of arias presented by International Vocal Arts Institute.  Last week we described every single aria but this time we would like to do something different. Hearing twenty singers in one evening was both exciting and exhausting. Some we had heard before at Diana Soviero's master class; a couple we remembered from the first evening of arias; others we reviewed before at other venues.

The evening seemed to be a big blur of fine performances except for a couple singers who stood out by virtue of certain characteristics that we would like to mention in the hopes that it will be helpful to other young singers at the beginning of their careers.

Of course, it helps if Mother Nature has endowed one with a beautiful instrument or a unique one, as is the case with mezzo-soprano Cloe San Antonio who sang "Pensa alla patria" from Rossini's L'Italiana in Algeri. The unique texture of her voice, augmented by the other factors which we will get to, made her performance memorable.

Similarly, counter-tenor Keymon Murrah electrified the audience with "Amour, viens rendre à mon âme" from Gluck's Orphée et Eurydice. This fach is rare and when the singer uses his instrument well, we are inclined to lean forward in our chair.

So, singers can't alter their instrument but they can learn to use it well. There is a reason that teachers put so much emphasis on breathing. Good support is the foundation for everything else. A beautiful legato is so important.

Musicality is inborn in some but can be developed. The ability to hear and respond to the accompaniment, be it piano or orchestra, plays a large part. Being attentive to phrasing is crucial. Running out of breath in an attempt to sustain a long phrase (think Bellini!) can ruin a performance. These phrases must be shaped with attention to dynamics. In our prior review we mentioned a few performances which grabbed us with a gorgeous decrescendo. It can make an audience hold its collective breath.

Mikayla Sager's performance of "Casta diva" from Bellini's Norma employed expressive phrasing and effective dynamic variation with a lovely descending portamento. This performance got our attention and has stayed in our memory!

Language skills are important. Of course one can learn an aria phonetically and this is what most singers will probably have to do for Czech or Hungarian. But there is no reason not to have a basic knowledge of Italian, German, French, and Spanish. We cringe when someone omits a final "ich" in German or pronounces it "ick". Perhaps most American audiences won't notice but you will be singing in Europe and THEY WILL NOTICE. 

Happily, the IVAI students we have heard so far had better than average language skills.

As you probably already know, flexibility is most important in lyric and coloratura sopranos. Readers have heard us praise a singer's pinpoint approach to fioritura. Audiences love "fireworks". A good trill (as explained by Ms. Soviero and mentioned in our review of her class) sends chills up and down the spine.

We noted no major technical flaws in the IVAI students and those we heard twice seemed to be improving in technique.

So what we would like to address is stage deportment and acting. Last night, Artistic Director Joan Dornemann coached the students on how to take a bow. This is something we have never considered! But we have paid lots of attention to how the singer uses the stage. Gripping the piano makes the singer look insecure. Stepping forward toward the audience makes us feel involved with both singer and music. We noticed how Elizaveta Kozlova used the entire stage in her taunting portrayal of Oscar in "Saper vorreste" from Verdi's Un ballo in maschera.

Now let us address the issue of acting. Some singers are natural born "stage animals" and some must learn. In an introspective aria like "E lucevan le stelle" from Puccini's Tosca or "Kuda, kuda" from Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, or Nedda's "Stridono lassù" from Leoncavallo's Pagliacci, it seems right for the singer to disregard the following piece of advice.

When you are presenting an aria from a scene involving another character, you need to see that other character onstage so we can see through your eyes. This was the major flaw we noted in last night's concert. We heard some lovely voices but several singers just stood there and sang. We have bodies for a reason and we must use them to convey our feelings. "Stock" gestures don't count; they are boring. Each gesture must reflect what your character is thinking about or feeling. 

For example, Clara Luz Iranzo sang "Quando m'en vo" (Musetta's aria from Puccini's La Bohême) quite well but we never got the feeling that she was showing off for Marcello and taunting him. Similarly, Oleksandra Verzole sang well in "Giunse al fin il momento...Deh vieni non tardar" from Mozart's Nozze di Figaro; but we didn't get the important point that she was teasing Figaro and "laying it on with a trowel". Likewise, Yaewon Jun could do better at "smelling the rose" and shyly flirting with Octavian.

On the other hand Robbie Raso showed us what an arrogant fellow Belcore is in "Come Paride vezzoso" from Donizetti's L'Élisir d'amore. We could just visualize the local peasants surrounding him and the unimpressed Adina. And Xiaohan Chen's performance of the "Violin aria" from Offenbach's Les contes d'Hoffman made us feel Hoffman's presence as she tried to persuade him to turn away from frivolous romances and to devote himself to his art. (Actually, she persuaded us!)

We realize that some of the students were trying out new material and in no way did we expect a finished performance. We hope our suggestions will be taken in the helpful spirit in which we offer them and not as destructive criticism.

The Institute has several more days to go and we will be reporting on the next few events. Stay tuned!

(c) meche kroop

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