Tuesday, March 28, 2023
HEAVENLY BODIES ALIGNED
Friday, March 24, 2023
AND THE LAST SHALL BE FIRST
Sunday, March 19, 2023
EICHENDORFF TWO WAYS
Thursday, March 16, 2023
A TALE OF TWO MEZZOS
|Mary Beth Nelson and Francesco Barfoed|
It isn't every day that we get to hear two talented mezzo-sopranos on the same program and to observe how very different two artists from the same fach can be--as different as yin and yang or as fire and ice Both were dazzling in different ways. Both shared a highly engaging manner and the ability to make the audience feel welcome and involved.
Each chose her own program comprising material that was meaningful to herself. We found our own self wishing that they had not announced their respective themes, inasmuch as it was the way each chose to interpret the material and perhaps not the way we in the audience might understand it. It reminded us of the "Director's Notes" in a playbill announcing what the director was trying to say. Readers have heard me before opining that a work of art should speak for itself.
Several singers were nominated by their respective voice teachers at Juilliard to audition and then these two were selected by a panel of judges to participate in last night's Vocal Arts Honors Recital at Merkin Hall. This annual recital has always been a highlight of the vocal scene.
The first half of the program was performed by Mary Beth Nelson and Collaborative Pianist Francesco Barfoed. The first set was a setting of Three Poems of Christina Rossetti, a Victorian poet who came from an artistic family, including a famous Pre-Raphaelite painter.
We found the contemporary settings by David Conte to be more interesting in the piano part than the vocal part. Ms. Nelson's approach was elegant, sophisticated, and spare of gesture, as appropriate to the content of the text, which was largely about death. In our opinion, the text didn't ask for music and stands alone as poetry, enjoyable if you love poetry. It felt to us as if Ms. Nelson's gorgeous instrument (which we have very much enjoyed on prior occasions, when she sang Rossini and Strauss) was searching for a melody that wasn't there. Nonetheless, we enjoyed some personal touches such as the ritardando on the closing "think it long" of "Rest" and the emphasis on the recurrence of the phrase "calling me" in "A Hope Carol". The expressive lower register fell lightly on the ear--quite a change from the coloratura that we have admired on prior occasions.
We also enjoyed Mr. Barfoed's playing of the sometimes dense score, especially the extended postlude of "Echo".
The second set comprised three lieder by Schubert that were completely unfamiliar to us. We must have heard them ten years ago when Lachlan Glen produced a year long and exhaustive survey of Schubert's 600 plus lieder. We would love to tell you that we were thrilled to discover "new" Schubert lieder but in all honesty, we cannot. We did not hear the melodic invention nor feel the rhythmic thrust that enthralls.
"Verklärung" is a setting of Alexander Pope's "Transfiguration" translated into German by Johann Gottfried Herder--still more on the theme of death. The piano part was powerful with alternating lyrical parts. The variety of pacing and dynamics held one's interest and it was a story that Ms. Nelson relished telling.
Similarly, the setting of Franz von Bruchmann's "Schwestergrüss" gave Ms. Nelson a story to tell, a ghost story! Schubert wrote it with phrases occurring in ever ascending registers and Ms. Nelson gave this device full measure to build the drama. We also liked the insistent piano in the lower register.
Christoph Kuffner's "Glaube, Hoffnung, und Liebe" seemed to occupy more familiar territory, offering an interesting alternation of major and minor mode. We loved the way Schubert ended the lied with a firm resolution in the piano.
We were left admiring Ms. Nelson's vocal gifts and the will to take the audience to unfamiliar places. Yet, the selections were not our taste and we were left wanting an encore of "Non piu mesto" or "Una voce poco fa".
Sunday, March 12, 2023
MANNES SOUNDS FESTIVAL SOUNDS GREAT
Sunday, March 5, 2023
THE SMALLEST SOUND IN THE SMALLEST SPACE
Friday, March 3, 2023
A GIFT FROM GERDA LISSNER
Monday, February 27, 2023
CARNEGIE HALL CITYWIDE
Dear Reader, if you haven't yet heard about the free vocal concerts offered by Carnegie Hall, let me tell you about them now. Yesterday, in collaboration with St. Paul and St. Andrew United Methodist Church, we had the opportunity to catch up on a singer we have been following for the past five years since her undergraduate days at Manhattan School of Music. Nothing gives us greater pleasure than watching a young singer go from "promising" to "rising star".
We have enjoyed Yvette Keong , a lovely Chinese-Australian soprano, in a number of roles, in a masterclass, as a Gerda Lissner award winner, and outdoors in Washington Square Park a few summers ago. These memories came flooding back when Ms. Keong satisfied the audience with an encore--Stephen Foster's "Beautiful Dreamer" which we may consider her "calling card", sung as it was with perfect diction, gorgeous legato, and the tenderest of feeling.
The program was a challenging one, beginning with four songs by Arnold Schoenberg notable for their mysterious texts by Richard Dehmel and Johannes Schlaf. Two songs by the 20th c. composer Joseph Schwantner utilized texts that were translated from Spanish poetry of Agueda Pizarro that might better have been left in Spanish, which we find far more singable than English. There were some jagged vocal lines that were well handled by the singer but we enjoyed it more when she produced some gorgeous melismatic singing that reminded us of a vocalise. However, the piano writing was colorful and evocative--well performed by collaborative pianist Gracie Francis.
The lyrical "La maja y el ruiseñor" by Enrique Granados was far more to our liking. Ms. Keong's voice represented the girl of the title and Ms. Francis' piano played the part of the nightingale. Ms. Keong's eyes followed the bird in much the same fashion as Nedda's followed the birds in I Pagliacci. So we not only heard the nightingale but we saw it through the eyes of the girl. How completely compelling!
Six songs by Rachmaninoff covered a great deal of emotional territory from the sorrowful imagery of "In my garden at night" to the frisky "The rat-catcher" to the passion of "The Quest"--all sung in impeccable Russian and with flowing vocal line.
The final five songs on the program were our favorites. There is something about Chinese poetry that stirs our soul; there is a timelessness that carries through from the 11th c. to the 20th that we can only begin to appreciate in the English translation but which inspires the most exquisite melodies in the 20th c. composers. The marriage of vocal sound and piano accompaniment left us feeling more than satisfied.
The next vocal recital in the series will be 4/13 when Jonathan Mc Cullough will perform. . Thanks Carnegie Hall!
© meche kroop
Sunday, February 26, 2023
LOVE IN THE TIME OF SOCIAL MEDIA
Wednesday, February 22, 2023
THE RED MILL LIVES AGAIN
Sunday, February 19, 2023
2023 GEORGE AND NORA LONDON FOUNDATION COMPETITION FINALS
Pianist Maestro Michael Fennelly, Foundation President John H. Hauser, and finalists in the 2023 Competition
The gracious presence of the late Nora London was greatly missed but we received a warm welcome from John H. Hauser, President of the George and Nora London Foundation. The prizes awarded in this competition are generous and the winners generally go on to great careers. The twelve finalists were of the very highest caliber and the judging must have been extremely difficult. We were glad not to have been among them! We love this competition because all finalists walk away with great honor as well as financial benefit.
If you must know which five of the twelve received the greatest honor, you must look on the foundation's website. We are sure it made a difference to the competitors but to our ears, they were all winners. There seemed to be more large voices this year and also a preponderance of sopranos and tenors with a lone mezzo-soprano, a sole bass-baritone, and a singular counter-tenor.
Regardless of who won the major prizes, several performances suited our taste to the point of lingering in our memory. That they just happen to be three beautiful young women "should" be considered irrelevant but it surely doesn't hurt one's career to be as appealing to the eye as to the ear.
Karoline Podolak put a smile on our face with a spirited performance of "Je suis Titania" from Ambroise Thomas' Mignon. There was charm and expressiveness in spades, utilized to underscore the fioritura which was cleanly delivered. It was altogether enchanting.
No less enchanting was the bright soprano of Erika Bakoff who performed "A vos jeux amis" from Thomas' Hamlet. It seems curious that we have heard very little of Thomas' works and here we got to hear two on the same program. We got to realize how well he writes for young light sopranos! Along with the lovely vocal line, we appreciated a terrific trill and a smoothly descending scale passage.
The role of Sophie in Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier must impress the audience in the same fashion as Sophie herself is impressed by the attention paid her by Count Rofrano as he delivers the silver rose. In this case, Elena Villalon succeeded in conveying innocence and wonder with a sweet coloration to the voice and the assumption of a modest demeanor. It was a completely convincing characterization.
We have been hearing quite a bit of "Aleko's Cavatina" from the Rachmaninoff opera that we have never seen in its entirety. Poor Aleko sings of his despair, his Gypsy wife having fallen for a young man of her own people. Somehow we were reminded of old King Philips's aria "Ella giammai m'amo" from Verdi's Don Carlo in which the singer must generate sympathy for a murderous man. At this task, bass-baritone William Socolof succeeded admirably with a carefully modulated performance, generous tone, and exemplary Russian.
Contrasting with the lowest voice in the competition was the highest male voice, that of counter-tenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen who performed "Inumano Fratel...Stille Amare" from Händel's Tolomeo in which the eponymous title character believes he has drunk poison and cannot make it through the da capo. Mr. Cohen dazzled with his mastery of this rare fach and it's vocal fireworks. If our opinion inspires you, you can hear his video for yourself on YouTube.
It is always interesting in a competition to be introduced to an aria with which one is unfamiliar but it is an entirely different story when a young singer tackles a very familiar aria. We feel the satisfaction one feels with the familiar but we are looking for something original or different in which the singer tells us something new about the character. Tenor Matthew Cairns took on "La fleur que tu m'avais jetée" from Bizet's Carmen and he did so with full tone and a lovely vocal quality. We particularly admired the dynamic variety and a smooth decrescendo.
Tenor Joseph Sacchi has a large powerful instrument just right for the role of Max in Weber's Die Freischütz. "Durch die Walder, durch die Auen" was performed in clearly enunciated German, augmented by meaningful gesture.
We always enjoy arias more when we understand the words and tenor Jordan Loyd delivered "Inutile regrets" from the final act of Berlioz' Les Troyens in fine French. He employed his fine vibrato to express Énée's despair in an emotional performance.
Another highly emotional performance was that of tenor Ricardo Garcia who put 110% into his portrayal of Lensky facing death in Tchaikovky's Eugene Onegin. The vocal line was lovely and the gestures were Russian in their extravagance.
The only mezzo-soprano on the program, Olivia Johnson gave an expressive performance of "O ma lyre immortelle" from Gounod's Sapho. (The program listed the composer as Massenet and indeed Massenet did write a piece of that name almost a half-century later but we are quite sure that what we heard was from the Gounod.)
The only Puccini aria on the program was from Edgar, about which we know little. Amber Monroe has a sizable soprano with an expressive vibrato put to good use in "Addio mio dolce Amore" sung by the faithful Fidelia.
Perhaps it was the stress of singing first but having heard tenor Alexander McKissic several times in the past, we didn't think we were hearing him at his best in "Se all'impero amici dei" from Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito, sung by the merciful titular character. He sounded best in the pianissimi passages with a lovely legato but as the volume increased his tone sounded rough which did not suit Tito's character. We found ourselves wishing he had not been first on the program.
Splendid accompanying in all these varied styles was provided by Maestro Michael Fennelly.
© meche kroop
Wednesday, February 15, 2023
KING ARTHUR AT JUILLIARD
Juilliard 415 and students from the Marcus Institute for Vocal Arts and Juilliard Drama
Sunday, January 29, 2023