Eric Sedgwick, Julio Mascaro, and Daniela Yurrita
Your self-styled opera critic, Dear Reader, has strong opinions that not all of you will agree with. There are opera lovers that focus on the minutiae of vocal technique and get all bent out of shape if a note is a trifle sharp or flat, or if the soprano interpolates a higher note than is written, just because she can. (We actually read an entire argument on this point in a youtube of a performance by a famous soprano, who shall remain nameless.)
We, on the other hand, come to the opera to be entertained. No matter how exquisite the singing is (and last night's concert of arias certainly did have some exquisite singing) we want to be transported to another time and place by believable characters, inhabited by artists who share our predilection. This is, of course, easier to achieve on the stage of an opera house with the help of sets and costumes. To do so in a recital is far more difficult, and yet it can be done.
Our passion for opera was preceded by a passion for theater and this verisimilitude is essential for us to enjoy an aria or duet. We have seen and heard some very famous artists stand in front of a full orchestra to "deliver" an aria with admirable vocal perfection. These events were not really "performances" and likely were not meant to be; still, they left us cold.
In a highly satisfying concert of arias we attended at St. John's in the Village, well known for providing a home for such concerts (a few of which we produced B.C.), our highest expectations were met. A pair of young artists sang with such involvement in their characters that we were drawn into the operatic scenes they were creating as if they were in costume and immersed in a set.
When rising star soprano Daniel Yurrita and terrific tenor Julio Mascaro sang a few selections from Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore, there was plenty of time to develop the characters of Adina and Nemorino. Both the center aisle of the sanctuary and the side door were employed to show their comings and goings. "Una parola Adina" gave the pair an opportunity to illuminate their individual characters as well as to establish their one-sided relationship with one another. In "Una furtiva lagrima" we could feel Nemorina's elation as he realizes Adina's underlying affection for him. By the time Adina gives us "Prendi, per me sei libero" our heart was filled with joy for the success of their relationship.
A different slant on the independent woman was created by Ms. Yurrita as Manon in "Je marche sur tous les chemins...Obeissons" and Mr. Mascaro was similarly convincing as the love-stricken des Grieux in "En fermant les yeux".
This made his creation of the elderly Don Ottavio even more impressive. All of his paternal caring for Donna Anna came across in the devilishly difficult "Il mio tesoro" from Mozart's Don Giovanni. Similarly Ms. Yurrita changed from the world conquering Manon to the despairing Pamina in "Ach, ich fühl's" from Mozart's Die Zauberflöte.
An entirely different set of emotions were conveyed in the tragic final duet from Verdi's La Traviata. In"Parigi o cara", Violetta is hopeful to the point of delusion and poor Alfredo is both grieving and ashamed.
Another set of emotions were limned in a charming selection from Torroba's Luisa Fernanda, one of our favorite zarzuelas. "Caballero del alto plumero" is a featherweight flirtation with the most memorable melody involving a turn that has become a dangerous "ear worm".
We haven't even gotten to the elation of "Maria" from Bernstein's West Side Story in which Mr. Mascaro differentially colored each iteration of his beloved's name. And how about the quieter romanticism of "Un aura amorosa"!
The evening comprised even more delights but we think you, Dear Reader, will get the point. Every emotion was covered from ecstasy to despair! So, how was this magic achieved? Much of it with vocal coloration but also with full use of the performing area, bodily freedom, facial expression, and minimal props. This is artistry!
For once, we have not a single criticism of the vocalism which was always used to develop character, rather than for show. We particularly admire the way bel canto style was used to convey character. Accompanying on the piano was the superbly versatile Eric Sedgwick.