Wednesday, December 21, 2022
Sunday, December 18, 2022
SO MUCH TALENT!
Sunday, December 11, 2022
FRENCH--FINE AND FUNNY
Yeong Taek Yang
Saturday, December 10, 2022
Friday, December 9, 2022
SO MUCH TALENT! SO LITTLE TIME!
An hour wasn't nearly long enough to spend with the participants of Classic Lyric Arts, an ever-growing academy of opera that makes use of total immersion summer courses in Italy, France, and lately The Berkshires to hone the skills of young emerging artists of opera and piano. Over the past few years we have delighted in the growth of the young artists as well as the growth of the foundation, helmed by Artistic Director Glenn Morton, well known as a beloved teacher and coach at all three New York City conservatories.
We will not go on and on about the merits of the training program but rather prefer to address the results which we enjoyed in one too-short hour. The evening began with a four-handed piano introduction. What could be more spirited than the overture to Mozart's Cosi fan tutte performed by the four hands of Billie Miller and Hannah Comia!
This led right into the charming Act I scene of this opera in which Ferrando and Guglielmo are interacting with the older wiser Don Alfonso. Tenor Bradyn Debysingh used his bright flexible tenor to create the character of Ferrando whilst Kevin Jasaitis' generous baritone joined in as Guglielmo. And who should appear as Don Alfonso? None other than the promising Christopher Lau whom we just heard as Giove in the Mannes production of La Calisto. Low voices like his take a bit longer to mature but we can already foresee a fine future for him.
Mascagni's L'amico Fritz is not performed as often as it should be and the charming scene between Fritz and Suzel --"Suzel, buon di" was brought to life by the equally charming soprano Maia Sumanaweera and her courtly Fritz, sung by Samuel Ng. They evinced a lovely shy interaction with plenty of romantic undertones.
After all that excellent Italian diction, we were ready to hear the fine French of Charlotte Bagwell as Ophelia, and Wesley Diener as Hamlet in "Doute la lumière" from Ambroise Thomas' eponymous opera. Ms. Bagwell successfully conveyed Ophelia's innocence whilst Mr. Diener created a nuanced portrait of the conflicted Hamlet.
Doohyun Yoon's full tenor was employed with subtle dynamics in "Non piangere Liu" from Puccini's Turandot. It is courageous for a young singer to tackle an aria that is so famous, so beloved, and so often heard sung by great voices. Mr. Yoon never shrank from the challenge and delivered a fine performance.
We love Bellini for his long lines and consider them a challenge for young singers. What a pleasure to hear soprano Jihye Seo as the eponymous Norma and mezzo soprano Monique Galvâo do justice to "Mira o Norma". The harmonies were exquisite and the astute dynamic variety made the most of this glorious duet.
Composer Jake Landau shared his composition "Mary's Song", setting a text by Marion Angus which was sung by Johanna Will. The piano writing struck us as dynamic and colorful.
The forbidden love of Nadir and the Hindu priestess Leila in "Ton coeur n'a pas compris le mien" from Bizet's Les pêcheurs de perles was expressed by soprano Julianne Casey and Mr. Debysingh; in this tender duet the two begin tentatively distanced and gradually move closer as emotions are given their due. The French was excellent and gave evidence of some fine coaching, for which CLA is known.
Der Rosenkavalier is one of our favorite operas and the trio of The Marschallin, Octavian, and Sophie is one of the grandest numbers in the operatic canon. What a treat to hear three young women perform it so splendidly-- soprano Hannah Cho as the gracious Marschallin, Ms. Sumanaweera as the innocent Sophie, and mezzo-soprano Arianna Paz as the bewildered and ambivalent Octavian. Xu Cheng made a special contribution at the piano, replacing Strauss' demanding but lavish orchestration.
In the scene from Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffmann ("Chère Enfant), we almost missed the marvelous vocalism, captivated as we were by Henry Griffin's mesmerizing. maliciousness as Dr. Miracle. Soprano Sara Mortensen made an affecting Antonia, the sickly singer who would lose her life when driven to sing by Dr. Miracle's conjuring of her dead mother, played by Emily Gehman. What a splendid trio!
The entertainment was brought to a close by an ensemble singing "C'est la fiesta bohémienne" from an operetta by Lopez called La belle de Cadix. We have never even heard of this mid-20th c. operetta and may never get to see the entire work but we certainly did enjoy this rousing finale to such a delightful hour spent with these up-and-coming young artists.
Piano accompaniment was provided by Mr. Cheng, Ms. Miller, Ms. Comia, and She-Yuan Ma.
We heard so much potential, so much evidence of hard work and dedication. Not all of these young artists will become stars, since talent and hard work are not enough; luck, grim determination, and good management also play a part. However, we are pleased to note the impressive success already achieved on the world stage by graduates of the CLA program.
Every year, one of the graduates gets to give a brief talk about how these summer programs have affected their artistic development. This year it was Ms. Galvão who shared her experience of cultural immersion in France, giving a joyful picture of exposure to culture as well as language.
May CLA continue to thrive and grow! May financial support increase! May a new crop of young artists get to participate in this valuable experience!
© meche kroop
Tuesday, December 6, 2022
GO FOR BAROQUE
Monday, December 5, 2022
CHANNELING THE POET
We hold 19th c. art songs in high esteem and have nothing but bitter scorn for any singer that fails to do them justice. On the other hand, when we hear a singer who shows us something new or something deeper, we want to fall to our knees in gratitude.
Last night at Opera America, we were gifted an evening of song cycles by Naama Zahavi-Ely that left us not only fulfilled but also transported.
Until last night, we had considered Schumann's Dichterliebe in somewhat second place to Schubert's Winterreise and Die Schöne Mullerin.
The performance of the Schumann by baritone Suchan Kim bumped it up to first place. It was so affecting that we needed to go out for a little tearful moment at the conclusion. Heinrich Heine's poetry seemed channeled through Schumann's music and then through Mr. Kim's performance so that we literally felt the many emotions expressed in a soul-to-soul fashion that is rarely achieved in a concert space.
A song cycle is actually a duet for voice and piano in which the piano part sometimes supports the text, sometimes alternates with the text, and sometimes tells us what the text is trying to hide. Collaborative pianist Eric Sedgwick added immeasurably to the effect. The "Dichter" of the title is not telling a story consecutively as is the storyteller in Die Schöne Mullerin. He is rather presenting the many aspects of a love affair gone wrong as in the kaleidoscope of memory; fragments of emotions return to haunt the disappointed lover. He remembers the joys, the excitement, the betrayals, the resentments, the jealousy, the feigned indifference, the rage, the unwanted dreams of happier times, the attempts to forget, and all other aspects of dealing with grief.
In a performance like this, the listener can get wrapped up in what appears to be spontaneous but is actually the product of hours upon hours of work on the vocal aspects, the phrasing, the breathing, the language, the dynamics, etc. In a great performance the listener can forget all that and feel the emotions. However, due to the unavailability of titles, we couldn't help but notice how perfekt was the German diction. We understood every word. Final consonants were given their due and the terminal "ich" was never slighted.Our companion does not speak German but the storytelling took place in the voice and it was easy to grasp each emotion in its turn.
The power of this performance and its affect on us left us ill-equipped to change gears and focus on the second half of the evening as intently as it deserved. It was a tough act to follow, as they say. Soprano Kinneret Ely (pictured above) has a bright tone and a most charming manner that lends itself well to the French repertoire. Berlioz' Les nuits d'ete seems more a collection of songs than a unified cycle and indeed we have heard these chansons sung separately more often than together.
The cheerful "Villanelle" and the fragrant "Le spectre de la rose" (the poetry of which inspired Michel Fokine to choreograph a ballet for Diaghilev) made small inroads on our dark mood. The subsequent "Sur les lagunes", "Absence", and "Au cimitière" were sorrowful but the ending "L'île inconnue" lifted our spirits with its playful tone. The cycle is marked by wide leaps and a wide range, a challenge for the singer to keep the voice centered throughout the entire register. In the upper register it is difficult to understand the words, a problem not unique to this artist but rather universal.
Mr. Kim returned to perform another cycle we love--Mahler's Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen. It shares with the Schumann the Romantic period focus on intense love and the despair of a spurned lover. Much has been written about the wandering keys of the four songs in the cycle and the autobiographical nature of the lyrics written by Mahler himself.
We would like to hear Mr. Kim perform this cycle in the future. It seemed as if he had not worked on it sufficiently. There was nothing wrong with the vocalism but the rare glances at the score of the Schumann were replaced here by frequent glances which broke the emotional connection.
Mr. Sedgwick's playing was consistently magnificent throughout the evening and always supported the singers. We left contented.
© meche kroop
BRUSH UP YOUR SHAKESPEARE
Thursday, December 1, 2022
RETURNING TO JUILLIARD
Sunday, November 27, 2022
CENTURY OPERA COMPETITION
Manli Deng, Yohji Daquio, Hyunju Ha, Allison Deady, Madison Marie McIntosh, Elizveta Ulakhovich, Jingjing Qi, Caroline Corrales, Rose Kearin, and Samuel White
It's always an exciting event when the finals of a competition are open. We were delighted to have been invited to The Century Opera Voice Competition to hear ten fine young singers. The singers each led off with an aria of their own choosing; then the judges requested another aria from their lists of prepared arias, presumably to learn something new about the singer, perhaps facility in a different style or different language. We enjoyed this rounding out of the picture.
We do not envy the judges since each young singer offered something valuable. And so, we will not tell you, dear Reader, who won the prizes because they were, in our eyes (and ears) all winners! We will tell about the young artists in the order in which they appeared.
First on the program was soprano Rose Kearin who did justice to "Ach, ich liebte" from Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail, sung in good crisp German. We regretted missing Adelaide's Aria from Jonathan Dove's The Enchanted Pig, since we had never heard it before and might never have another opportunity.
Also superb in German was mezzo-soprano Allison Deady who gave a passionate delivery of Octavian's post-coital aria "Wie du warst!" from Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier. Equally fine in Italian, she sang "All'afflitto è dolce il pianto" from Donizetti's Roberto Devereux, meeting the fioritura challenge with grace.
We hadn't heard enough of soprano Caroline Corrales at the Santa Fe Opera when she sang Donna Elvira (in a nun's habit) so we were especially delighted to get a better "listen". Her sizable sound was perfect for Verdi and "Ernani, Ernani involami" was thrilling. Ms. Corrales is an emotional singer and Jenufa's prayer from the Janáček opera of the same name was stirring. We cannot comment on the language because we are completely ignorant of Czech.
"Stridono lassù" from Leoncavallo's Pagliacci is one of our favorite verismo arias and soprano Manli Deng created a lovely sound world including a delicate trilll. Massenet's Le Cid, however, is not well known by us, but Ms. Deng evinced some fine sounding French in "Pleurez, mes yeux". Her use of dynamics were effective in eliciting emotion.
"Chi il bel sogno di Doretta" from Puccini's La Rondine was a much better choice for soprano Jingjing Qi than "Sleeping Beauty" from Menotti's The Hero. It is difficult enough for native English speakers to sing musically in English! However, there was a heart-stopping decrescendo that tickled the ear.
Soprano Hyunju Ha invested "Ah, non credea mirarti" from Bellini's La Sonnambula with dynamic variety, fine fioritura, and an affecting vibrato. In the exposed passage without piano accompaniment we could appreciate the musicality of her phrasing. Although her second selection was not listed on the program, the choice of Sophie's "Rose Aria" from Der Rosenkavalier came as a delightful surprise, sung with wide-eyed innocence in fine German. They were good choices because they demonstrated her versatility.
Tenor Samuel White was the lone male on the program and he showed his stuff in the "Flower Aria" from Bizet's Carmen and an intense delivery of "Una parola sola..Or son sei mesi", Ramerrez' aria from Act II of Puccini's Fanciulla del West. Mr. White has a powerful voice and we longed to hear some tenderness in places.
We would like to hear soprano Elizveta Ulakhovich on another occasion. There is a lot o beauty of tone there but her choices did not seem suitable to us. Micaela's "Je dis que rien ne m'épouvant" from Bizet's Carmen requires a singer who can sound like an innocent country girl pushed to the limits of her fearfulness, a sense of "whistling in the dark". It wasn't there. Ms. Ulakhovich projects an air of confident glamor and we could think of far better material for her to sing.
Mezzo-soprano Madison Marie McIntosh, on the other hand, knows exactly where her strengths lay and how to play to them. She has a voice of unusual and exciting timbre with great flexibility in fioritura. "O mio Fernando" from Donizetti's La favorita is the perfect vehicle to show off her finely honed bel canto technique. The judges requested "Un'altra volta ancor" from Händel's Partenope which was just as splendidly performed; however, we would have much preferred to hear Waltraute's aria "Höre mir Sinn was ich dir sage" from Wagner's Götterdammerung. We hope we will have another opportunity.
Finally, soprano Yohji Daquio did get the opportunity to show off her versatility by performing two very different characters, the sprightly Marie from Donizetti's La fille du regiment showing her patriotism in "Salut a la France" with all its fabulous fioritura--and then meeting head on "I am the Wife of Mao Tse-Tung" from Adams' Nixon in China. This aria involves a lot of rage and repetition and it takes a gifted singer to make it interesting. She succeeded. We were floored.
© meche kroop
Sunday, November 20, 2022
MORE BAROQUE FROM MANNES OPERA
Last night we attended a performance of Francesco Cavalli's l651 opera La Calisto, presented by Mannes Opera and directed most imaginatively by Emma Griffin. We don't know why all three opera conservatories in New York City chose to present a Baroque opera during the same time period; we thought we had had our fill and had no intention of writing another review. We only went to see the performance of a couple singers we admire. However, we were so taken with the production and the artistry of the singers and musicians that we feel compelled to share it with you, dear reader. If you read this too late to see it in person, we urge you to watch the livestream on December 2.