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.

Friday, December 6, 2019


Olga Lisovskaya, hosting the Grand Finals of the 3rd Annual International Voice Competition

Yesterday we had the good fortune to being invited to attend the Grand Finals of the International Voice Competition. In a brief three years, the competition has succeeded in attracting a huge pool of applicants of impressively high quality. The late tenor Francisco Casanova was honored and indeed he would have been thrilled with the performances, as were we.

There were 16 finalists--each and every one giving an outstanding performance. We were sad to learn that several of our favorite singers had been eliminated in the semifinals yesterday, but were glad to see so many that we love giving their all onstage.

Speaking of competitions, we have nothing but good things to say about this one which was extremely well run. The time schedule was adhered to strictly and the judges were gracious and welcoming, putting the contestants at their ease. Pianist Gloria Kim possesses the versatility to give all the singers the superb accompaniment they deserve.

There were seven judges, coming from different parts of the opera world, each contributing a different point of view. We noticed that when they requested a second selection, they chose an aria in a different language from the first one, or an aria that would give the artist an opportunity to show a different aspect of his/her talent.

David Gvinianidze, President of Talents of the World, was one of the judges, as was Olga Lisovskaya, host for the competition. Both are singers and well positioned to judge the quality of the voices. They were joined by distinguished experts in the fields of coaching, management, and education.

Contestants were judged in five areas, each one counting for a fifth of the score--stage presence, vocal technique, interpretation, diction, and beauty of tone. We approach a performance from a different perspective. We want to be drawn in to the world of the character and want to see the other qualities brought to bear on this "believability".

We apologize for neglecting the final four contestants whom we were obliged to miss due to a commitment to Juilliard (a review which will follow this one). The dozen that we heard all shared the same important qualities--they all introduced themselves and their respective arias with clarity. This is something that should be routine, but isn't. Furthermore, they all were adept at the languages in which they sang.

We were glad not to be judging because we loved them all! We can't imagine how the judges made up their minds. We plan to list the contestants in order without mentioning the winners. That information is available on the Talents of the World website, if that's important to you.

Soprano Susanne Burgess opened the program with a strong presence and a passionate delivery of "Furie Terribili" from Händel's Rinaldo. Her voice opened up at the upper register with some glass-shattering high notes. She showed nice contrast with a sweet delivery of "Chi il bel sogno" from Puccini's La Rondine.

Baritone Jonathan McCullough made a believable Count Almaviva in "Hai gia vinta la causa" from Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro. He made use of the entire stage as he limned the character of the clueless Count. You could see in his face and gestures the wheels of suspicion turning. The drinking song from Thomas' Hamlet had a trill to thrill and some effective contrast in the central section.

Soprano Lauren McQuistin showed an affecting vibrato in "In quelle trine morbide" from Puccini's Manon Lescaut and went on to build some sustained drama in a section of Tatiana's "Letter Aria" (from Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin), conveying all the pangs of first love, taking the listener through an emotional wringer.

Soprano Sarah Ryman conveyed a lot of Puccinian sorrow in "Sola, perduta, abbandonata" from Manon Lescaut, then did a lovely job with Richard Strauss' "Zueignung". She has a sizable voice and we'd love to hear her sing some Wagner. The judges requested a bit of "Pace, pace, mio Dio" from Verdi's La forza del destino which just added to the favorable impression.

Soprano Sophie Michaux performed "Fra il Padre e fra l'amante" from Rossini's La Donna del lago so engagingly that we wanted to hear the entire opera. We always love Rossini's fioritura fireworks and she negotiated them well. There was also plenty of strength in the lower register. "Give him this orchid" from Britten's The Rape of Lucretia was sung with clarity of diction and limned the shame of a woman betrayed.

Soprano Maria Khoobyar never lost her legato in the violent "Il tuo sangue" from Puccini's Tosca. We also enjoyed "Song to the Moon" from Dvorak's Rusalka; she made the difficult Czech text meaningful by means of gesture and phrasing that seemed spontaneous.

Seung Hee Lee, the only bass on the program, showed some textured tone as he portrayed a bitter inebriated character in an opera we have never heard--Bizet's La jolie fille de Perth. The familiar "Vi ravviso" from Bellini's La sonnambula showed off his flexibility and his gorgeous bottom register.

Soprano Maria Maksakova tackled an aria from Verdi's Aida which we would have enjoyed more if she had released her death grip on the piano. She possesses a large voice that seemed right for "Dich teure Halle" from Wagner's Tannhäuser.

Soprano Sooyeon Kang impressed us by submerging her own lovely personality whilst portraying different characters. She utilized her bright flexible instrument to create a believable Norina from Donizetti's Don Pasquale-- totally different from the conflicted Manon in the Massenet opera. Her French was fine and the performance was marvelously measured, making use of dynamics and pacing to illustrate the character's ambivalence in "Adieu, notre petite table".

Baritone Bryan Murray was asked for three selections, perhaps because the judges enjoyed listening to him. He gave a persuasive performance of Silvio's aria from Leoncavallo's Pagliacci with enough ardency to persuade the most reluctant Nedda. "Dieux qui me poursuivez" from Gluck's Iphigénie en Tauride limned a tormented character. We preferred his "Mein Sehnen, mein Wähnen" from Korngold's Die tote Stadt which dripped nostalgia. We well remember his performance of this aria at the Opera Index Gala of 2018.

Soprano Alina Tamborini tickled us with "Adele's Audition Aria" from Johann Strauss' Die Fledermaus. Although we prefer the aria sung in German, we must admit that the translation was an excellent one and Ms. Tamborini's clarity of diction won us over completely. She created a real character that we could laugh along with, one that reminded us of every deluded "wannabe" that we've ever met. The fioritura of "Ach, ich liebte" from Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail  showed consummate coloratura skills and made us want to hear her as Queen of the Night.

At this juncture, we were running out of time but stood at the door to catch soprano Nina Mutalifu sing just a few phrases of the "Letter Scene" from Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin. It sounded so fine that we hated tearing ourself away. We kept wondering what other piece the judges asked for.

The competitors we so reluctantly missed were mezzo-soprano Maggie Renée Valdman, soprano Dilara Unsal, soprano Sulgi Cho, and baritone Tyler Putnam. We barely made it to Juilliard. So much music, so little time!

© meche kroop

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