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, February 11, 2020


Dina Pruzhansky, Briana Hunter, Meryl Dominguez, Sungwook Kim, and Paul An

In its annual coproduction with the Lyric Chamber Music Society, Bare Opera presented a delightful evening of Russian song and arias. The cast could not have been better chosen, nor could the material have been better curated. Composer/pianist Dina Pruzhansky contributed to the pleasure in several ways--first by narrating and introducing the selections, encouraging the singers to give their take on the material--but, more significantly by her stunning pianism.

Regular readers will recall our distaste for contemporary compositions but the pen of Ms. Pruzhansky plays a different tune, paying tribute to the composers of the 19th c. whom we so greatly admire. We do love melody and her songs have no lack of melodic invention. We noticed most of all how well the melodies reflected the sound of the Russian language. One advantage of hearing songs in a language one doesn't speak is that one can hear the abstract connection between the language of the poet and the rise and fall of the vocal line.

The poet in question was Alexander Blok, a symbolist poet whose words were probably not completely comprehensible in Russian and rather untranslatable into English. In this case, tant mieux! Meryl Dominguez, a singer we remember well from Santa Fe Opera, gave the four miniatures an excellent performance with great attention paid to the sound of the words. Each song had a different mood and the final one was filled with anxiety. We are really looking forward to hearing more of Ms. Pruzhansky's music at Carnegie Hall on March 3rd.

Ms. Dominguez' soprano is a generous one and her performance of Shemakha's "Hymn to the Sun" from Rimsky-Korsakov's The Golden Cockerel was glorious in its melismatic seduction, all done in an Eastern mode. Her voice opened like a parasol at the top of the register. We loved that opera in Santa Fe when Ms. Dominguez was in the chorus. We would love even more to hear her sing the role of Shemakha! We shall put that on our wish list.

Mezzo-soprano Briana Hunter, always astonishing in her ability to enter a role and give it all she's got, gave an outstanding performance of Olga's arioso "Ah, Tanya, Tanya" from Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin. She explained to the audience how unusual it was to assign the role of a light hearted girl to the mezzo fach; yet when she sang it the feeling was perfectly natural and it was easy to visualize the reserved Tanya sitting in a chair nearby, mildly accepting the loving teasing from her extroverted sister.

The sister, we know, is no saint and somewhat lacking in judgment, having also teased her devoted Lensky by flirting outrageously with Onegin, thus provoking a duel--which takes us to the next selection on the program. Tenor Sungwook Kim was so convincing in Lensky's aria "Kuda, kuda" that our emotions got drawn in. We had to stifle the urge to rush up and stop the duel! And Mr. Kim accomplished all this with pure vowels and crisp consonants. He paced himself well and built to a searing climax.

Bass Paul An shone in Aleko's cavatina "The entire Gypsy camp is asleep" from Rachmaninoff's first opera Aleko, adapted from Pushkin's poetry, as was Eugene Onegin, and so many other works on the program. The piano prelude was particularly portentous. Mr. An impressed us with a pianissimo note, floated at the upper end of the register; this is exactly what we like to hear from tenors and hearing it from a bass just blew us away.

Strangely enough, three days ago we reviewed a song cycle by Janáček about a young peasant who runs off with a gypsy woman. Aleko begins where that cycle ends!

Three songs by Rachmaninoff were finely handled as well. Ms. Dominguez exhibited her fine vibrato in the upper register in "Sleep" whilst Ms. Pruzhansky's piano created a dreamlike state with some gorgeous arpeggi.

Mr. Kim performed "Dream" in lovely fashion; he surely knows how to swell a note in careful crescendo and how to hold a note with sustained energy--all evidence of superlative breath control. He generated lots of excitement in an expansive delivery of "Spring Waters", amplified by parallel excitement in the piano.

Ms. Pruzhansky delighted us with a solo--Tchaikovsky's Nocturne in C# minor, begun at a leisurely tempo but moving on to a livelier theme and ending with what in vocal performance would be called embellishment of the line. We hope pianists will forgive our lame description but we are unaccustomed to writing about piano music.

The conclusion of the program was a quartet by Alexandre Dubuque, a 19th c. composer of French origin who was raised in Russia. The song "Don't Be Cunning" involved men making advances and women rejecting them. The gimmick of the performance, which took it right into the 21st century, was that the men kept trying to take selfies with the women. It was all in good fun and made the perfect end for a perfect concert.

© meche kroop

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