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.

Thursday, May 25, 2023



John Viscardi, Brooke Jones, Yeong Taek Yang, Reed Gnepper, Jason Hwang, Monique Galvāo, Temple Hammen, Laura Soto-Bayami, Xu Cheng, and Maestro Michelle Rofrano

There was that splendid view of the Hudson River but no one was looking. Every pair of eyes and ears were drinking in the magic of young singers sharing their artistry with supporters of Classic Lyric Arts. A few years from now, these audience members are going to be boasting about having heard this artistry before these promising artists will have achieved fame.

Classic Lyric Arts is renowned for guiding young singers by means of intensive immersion programs in France, Italy, and the Berkshires, programs that serve to polish these gems. Artistic Director Glenn Morton is famed for his work coaching aspiring opera singers at all three Manhattan music conservatories; Executive Director John Viscardi, a gifted tenor himself, is a graduate of the programs. The cast of last night's gala comprised both graduates of the programs and some who have been selected to attend this summer. The feeling in the room was one of being with family.

The generous program began with soprano Laura Soto-Bayomi (recently reviewed as star of the zarzuela Luisa Fernanda) and Mr. Viscardi performing "Libiamo" from Verdi's La Traviata,  getting the evening off to a rousing and celebratory start. Later in the program we got a deeper exposure to Violetta in "Sempre libera" as she contemplates a romantic relationship with the importunate Alfredo. All the right emotional highs were hit-- from loneliness, the promise of a loving future, and the rejection of same in favor of a life of pleasure. The necessary vocal technique was all there, including the vocal fireworks of the cabaletta.

No stranger to passionate Italianate singing, Mr. Viscardi would go on to sing De Curtis' "Non ti scordar di me" with admirable dynamic variation. We could have listened to lots more but there were other delights to be heard.

Gastaldon's "Musica proibita" is new to us and we loved the deep emotionality conveyed by baritone Yeong Taek Yang, emotion supported by the same splendid technique we noted in his performances at Manhattan School of Music. He was equally impressive in the prologue to Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci, as he invites the audience to the upcoming show in a manner so persuasive that no one could have refused. His voice is especially enchanting in the pianissimi.

The romantic cabaret style of Francis Poulenc's "Les chemins de l'amour" was beautifully captured by Brooke Jones who showed another side of her artistry in a trio from Giancarlo Menotti's Amelia al ballo. The lighthearted trio "Chi può saper?" included tenor Reed Gnepper and baritone Jason Hwang as lover and husband. There was a perfect balance between the three voices joined in happy harmony.

Soprano Temple Hammen tackled the challenging "Song to the Moon" from Dvorak's Russalka and did so with gorgeous phrasing. Her "O mio babbino caro" from Puccini's Gianni Schicchi was equally pleasing with a sensitively rendered crescendo that served to build the emotional impact.

Mezzo-soprano Monique Galvāo has one of those distinctively textured voices, unlike so many mezzo-sopranos who leave one wondering whether they are really sopranos. This is augmented by some fearless acting that left no doubt that Dalila would seduce Samson in "Mon coeur s'ouvre à ta voix" for which Camille Saint-Saëns wrote the most seductive melody. She evinced the same stunning vocalism in Eric Satie's "La diva de l'empire", but created a very different character. It is always a pleasure to witness a singer with a feel for the character.

An evening would not be complete without the crowd-pleasing duet "Au fond du temple saint" from Bizet's Les pêcheurs de perles. Mr. Gnepper and Mr. Hwang harmonized beautifully and had a fine rapport. We loved the way that they conveyed through their eyes and bodily gestures that they were both staring at their love object.

Accompanist for the evening was the wonderful pianist Xu Cheng whose playing we particularly enjoyed in the Dvorak and the Saint-Saëns. Ensembles were finely conducted by Maestro Michelle Rofrano who has recently become a welcome member of the CLA family.

It was music to our ears to learn that the Musician's Emergency Fund joined Amy Hausknecht and Karen Kelley in their support of this delightful Spring Soirée. We didn't want the evening to end!

© meche kroop

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