|Anna Smigelskaya and Carolina López Moreno
Two remarkable artists performed a recital of art songs, the likes of which we have not heard in a long while. Could a graduation recital at Manhattan School of Music surpass so many given at Carnegie Hall by famous singers? Yes, it could and it did!
Although some credit for the magnitude of our pleasure could be given to the astute choice of material, we have a sense that these two lovely ladies working together in sublime harmony could have pleased us with any program they chose.
We first were exposed to the gifts of soprano Carolina López Moreno in 2018 in a Talents of the World competition when we enjoyed her Juliette and her Violetta--two very different heroines, both successfully realized. Her Manhattan School of Music performance as the lead in Nino Rota's rarely heard one-act opera I Due Timidi was another feather in her artistic cap. In 2019 we had yet another chance to enjoy her artistry at a Classic Lyric Arts salon at which she performed Leïla in a duet.
However, art song is completely different from opera and it's a rare artist who can do justice to both forms of vocal artistry. Both Ms. Moreno and her collaborative pianist Anna Smigelskaya have plenty of stage presence and the audience was engaged from the beginning.
The program opened with three charming songs from Rossini's Soirées musicales. In the first song "La promessa" we could immediately identify a lovely legato that persevered throughout the smooth upward leaps, some graceful portamenti, a variety of dynamics, some clear staccato passages, and a sincerity of emotion. Ms. Smigelskaya underscored the vocal line with some lilting arpeggi.
"L'invito" manifested a seductive invitation with some well-executed turns, all laid over a gorgeous carpet of sound in the piano. In "Pastorella delle alpi", the singer created a welcoming character, reveling in some melismatic arpeggi. We enjoyed the brief shift to a minor key. To say we were enchanted would be an understatement.
We would have been content to enjoy more of the same for the remainder of the evening but it was time to move on to some lieder from Hugo Wolf's Italienisches Liederbuch, somewhat in keeping with the first set if not linguistically at least culturally. We are delighted to report that Ms. Moreno's German is perfect, but one would expect that since she grew up in Germany.
The flirtatious "Du denkst mit einem Fädchen mich zu fangen" has a cute twist at the end as the woman turns the tables on a man. Not all of von Heyse's poetry portrays an elusive woman. The singer in "O wär dein Haus durchsichtig" is completely devoted to her beloved. The poor girl in "Mein Liebster singt am Haus im Mondenscheine" is being serenaded by her sweetheart but cannot respond because of a watchful mother. Like any histrionic teenager she is "crying tears of blood"! Ms. Smigelskaya's piano was filled with longing in a minor key.
Three songs in English followed and we were astonished by the perfect enunciation that made every word clear, even at the upper end of the register. Samuel Barber's setting of James Agee's "Sure on this shining night" was followed by Charles T. Griffes' setting of Sydney Lanier's "Evening Song", filled with exaltation. Our favorite of this set was Frank Bridge's "Love went a-riding", a setting of Mary Elisabeth Coleridge's charming text, filled with wonder.
Debussy's setting of Paul Bourget's Two Romances evinced long lyrical lines in the Gallic tradition of mélodie; the singing was delicate in "L'âme évaporée" and "Les cloches", as was Ms. Smigelskaya's delicate accompaniment.
Spanish was next on the program, to our delight. Who could not succumb to the eroticism of "Del cabello mas sutil" from Fernando Obradors' Canciones clásicas españolas! In the central section, Ms. Moreno began humming and opened up her voice to a captivating vocalise, whilst Ms. Smigelskaya produced ripples of arpeggi in the piano.
Following the serious passion of that song was the charmingly silly folk song "Chiquitita la novia" which opened and closed with a flamenco inflected vocalise. There was a powerful high note to bring the song to an end.
The "dessert" of this tasty meal was in Russian and we heard three of our favorite songs by Rachmaninoff from his Twelve Romances. "Zdes' khorosho" or "How fair this spot" transported us to a special place and was marked by expressive dynamics. "Jeshchjo v poljakh belejet sneg" or "Spring Waters" is filled with the ecstacy of the arrival of Spring after a long winter.
Still, our favorite was and always will be the melancholic "Ne poy, krasavica" or "Do not sing to me" which speaks of longing for what is gone and never fails to touch our heart. All of these emotions were limned by our two artists in tandem.
The audience demanded an encore and we got the impression that none was prepared because the duo performed a welcome repeat of "Love went a-riding".
We are noted for being nit-picky but this was one recital of which we would not have changed a single note. From technique to story-telling, everything achieve a rare perfection. We hope that the two artists will stay together because their rapport was matchless. We foresee a great future for them.
We are not alone in our admiration. There have been countless awards, scholarships, and much recognition as well as plenty of engagements. What excites us most in her future is a debut as Violetta. If anyone can portray the three phases of our favorite heroine it is she. It is said that Violetta requires three different singers but one versatile soprano like Ms. Moreno will likely fulfill all the requirements.
© meche kroop