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.

Saturday, February 1, 2020


Manami Mizumoto, Chloe Kim, Jacob Dassa, Edward Li, Samuel Siegel, Jessica Niles, and Joshua Stauffer

We recall the first time we heard a countertenor. It was at Manhattan School of Music and the singer was Anthony Ross Costanzo, who has gone on to fame and fortune. More recently we have been dazzled by Jakob Jozef Orlinski and Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen. The fach is not to everyone's taste but it is very pleasing to our ear.

Last night at Juilliard we heard Samuel Siegel in recital and the first thing we noticed about his splendid technique is that there was an evenness throughout the range, evidence of a stable core and good breath control. Last week we reviewed a well-known countertenor who sounded like two different singers at either end of the vocal register. That was not pleasing.

Although sacred music is not nearly as interesting to us as secular music, we thought Mr. Siegel brought beautiful tone and phrasing to Giovanni Battista Pergolesi's 18th c. Stabat Mater. Mr. Siegel wisely chose some excellent artists to accompany him on his journey into Maria's sorrow.

Soprano Jessica Niles matched his artistry all the way and during their duets we were fascinated by the play of harmonics every time the voices essayed a discordant minor second.

Members of Juilliard 415 contributed the accompaniment with Jacob Dassa playing the beautiful harpsichord and Joshua Stauffer plucking the strings of that most impressive instrument, the theorbo. Violins were bowed by Chloe Kim and Manami Mizumoto, the viola by Edward Li, and the cello by Cullen O'Neil. John Stajduhar manned the Double Bass.

The work itself comprises a succession of verses about Mary, mother of Jesus, grieving at the cross. The poet wants to share her grief. There is not much variety in the sentiment and it is impressive how the young Pergolesi managed to inject a great deal of variety into the music. Surprisingly, a couple of the verses were written in a major key, providing some relief from the misery and suffering.

There is less decoration in the vocal line than in music of the Baroque but we did admire the execution of the few turns we heard, and the occasional florid vocal line in the melismatic passages of "Fac, ut ardeat cor meum". 

There was a fair amount of excitement in the scale passages of "Inflammatus et accensus", but for the most part the mood was one of devotion and both singers invested the performance with a deeply felt but subdued sincerity.

We wondered what the adventuresome Pergolesi might have achieved had he not perished from tuberculosis at the young age of 26. His work looks forward to the Classicism of the future.

© meche kroop

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