|Students of International Vocal Arts Institute|
Last night we attended a delightful evening of duets, trios, and ensembles performed by participants in the International Vocal Arts Institute at Mannes College of Music. We were both pleased and astonished to witness the growth of these young singers in the space of only one week.
It was interesting to note the difference in performance quality as each singer worked with one or more scene partners, in contrast with their performances in solo arias. We imagine it is far easier to slip into a role under such conditions as opposed to singing an aria whilst imagining the presence of the other singers. Singers who hadn't captured our interest on prior nights made a significant impression; those we admired before made an even better impression last night.
The scenes that were performed were well chosen (heavy on the Mozart) for these young voices, effectively coached by Artistic Director Joan Dornemann, Jane Steele, Pei-Wen Chen, and Dura Jun. Directing the scenes were Brittany Goodwin (whose work we have always admired) and Marc Verzatt (whom we do not know). What we have to say about the direction is that every scene worked with only a few black boxes onstage and a curtain covering the windows, which made a fine hiding place for Cherubino. More about that later. Maestro Brent Chancellor was conductor for the evening.
The program opened with a charming scene from Mascagni's L'amico Fritz--the "Cherry Duet". Soprano Jennifer Jaroslavsky made a perfect shy Suzel and we loved the part where she climbed the tree (a black box) to pick the cherries. We could see the tree in our mind's eye! Tenor Alonzo Jordan Lopez made a fine Fritz and there was wonderful romantic tension between the two of them as they moved closer and closer. In our mind we were urging them on! And that's an effective performance!
There were two scenes from Mozart's Nozze di Figaro. Soprano Miriam Chaudoir had the role of the terrified Countess with baritone Robbie Raso as the jealous Count. Helping Cherubino (mezzo-soprano Megan Mateosky) escape was the clever Susanna portrayed by the excellent soprano Elizaveta Kozlova who, we were informed, stepped in at the last minute. We have enjoyed her performances all week and are presently even more impressed with her versatility. Watching her racing around the stage and hiding behind pillars made us chuckle. We have her tagged as one of those "stage animals".
This scene was followed by the Act III sextet in which Susanna (the lovely soprano Eugenia Forteza) convincingly showed her character's fury at discovering her fiancé Figaro in the arms of Marcelina (mezzo Nicole Karrs). There is so much warmth and humor in the reconciliation that we were grinning from ear to ear.
Although we had to get accustomed to a different Susanna, the Count was again portrayed by Mr. Raso. Figaro (baritone Luka Jozic) was delighted to reunite with his mother and father Dr. Bartolo (baritone Gabriel Garcia) and we got "the feels", which is exactly what this scene should achieve. Tenor Nicolas Gerst took the role of Don Curzio, sharing the Count's dismay.
To thrill an audience, Léo Delibes' Lakmé requires two beautiful female voices. In this performance of the "Flower Duet" soprano Jessica Bayne in the title role and mezzo Xiaohan Chen as Malika could charm the birds from the trees with their gorgeous voices, their exquisite harmonic blending, and sympathetic friendship. We particularly enjoyed the change of vocal color in the repeat.
We returned to Mozart with a scene from Così fan tutte in which the wily Despina (Ms. Kozlova again) tries to convince the two sisters to accept the two prospective lovers. Ms. Kozlova accurately made the social class distinction between herself and her employers-the resistant Fiordiligi (soprano Hrun Osk) and the less resistant Dorabella (mezzo Emma Guo) who has the task of winning her sister over to the romantic adventure to follow. It was all well done and dramatically convincing.
The prelude to Claudio Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea is not always included in performance but it makes a charming "stand alone" scene as three sopranos, symbols of three qualities, make a case for their own importance. Megan Mateosky exuded confidence as Fortuna. Kaylene Dahl presented Virtù with appropriate smugness, but we all know who wins out in the end. It is Isabel Springer as Amor! Of course, if it were a singing contest we could never have chosen the winner. They were all excellent.
Another return to Mozart brought us to Don Giovanni-- to a crucial scene in which each character reveals his/her own true character. Soprano Jinni Shen reveals her mistrust of Don Giovanni, soprano Angela Canela was particularly fine as the conflicted Donna Elvira, Don Giovanni (Luka Jozic) shows his deceitful nature and the supportive Don Ottavio (tenor Zachary Sebek) is there for his betrothed. We were glad to see Mozart's genius composition honored so well.
The opening scene of Mozart's Die Zauberflôte is a masterpiece of vocal writing in which Papageno (baritone Gabriel Garcia) can only hum his vocal line because he has a padlock on his mouth--a punishment for lying. The three ladies (sopranos Mithuna Sivaraman and Wenjia Wei with mezzo Heather Jones) offer forgiveness if he will go with Tamino (Yunxuan Zhu) to rescue Pamino. They present Tamino with a magic flute and Papageno with some magic bells. The complex vocal writing was beautifully realized by all five of them and the direction and props added to the fun.
The program closed with the oft-performed scene from Donizetti's Don Pasquale in which Dr. Malatesta (the versatile Mr. Raso) explains his plot to Norina (soprano Emilia Poma) in which she will portray his convent-bred sister and marry the elderly Don Pasquale. This offers a grand opportunity for acting and the two singers rose to the occasion. We particularly enjoyed the directorial move of having her gestures timed to the beat of the music. We could hardly keep a straight face.
Photos of these scenes can be seen on our FB page-- Voce di Meche.
There will be another similar evening tonight and we wouldn't miss it for the world. And you shouldn't either!
(c) meche kroop