|Joseph Sacchi, Younggwang Park, Chelsea Lehnea, Amanda Batista, Le Bu, Chanae Curtis, Spencer Reichman, Key'mon Murrah, Mary Pinto, and Ken Benson |
For over two decades, Gloria Gari has honored the memory of her late husband Giulio Gari with a foundation that supports young singers--in much the same fashion as the late Nora London did for George London. What better way to honor the memory than by passing the torch.
The list of finalists for this year's competition reads like a roll call of the most promising young singers around and the winners have all been seen and heard at our major conservatories and young artist programs around the country. We were thrilled to witness Maestro Eve Queler, founder of Opera Orchestra of New York, receiving an award for her immeasurable contributions to the field of opera.
After a warm welcome from Mrs. Gari herself, and some introductory comments by Linda Kundell, the charming Ken Benson took over the hosting duties and Mary Pinto took over as accompanist for the afternoon. The talented Ms. Pinto seems to be able to play just about anything and always went above and beyond to support the young singers on the program.
A couple of the winners on the program were more well known to us than the others so let us begin with them. Bass-Baritone Le Bu astonished us with a riveting performance of the hateful Philippe II of Spain in "Elle ne m'aime pas" from Verdi's Don Carlo. The King is hateful because he stole his son's intended bride and then consigned his son to death. However in this aria, Mr. Bu showed us the lonely and disappointed old man and got us to feel sympathetic! And that's the artistry that astonished us. And he did so in perfect French.
When a singer's technique is this secure he can disappear into a character and take us to new places. He also sang the aria of a very different father. Senta's father Daland sings "Mogst du mein kind" with enthusiasm and it was great to hear Mr. Bu portray a very different character. Every facial expression and gesture had meaning; nothing was generic. The German was flawless and the characterization utterly compelling.
Chelsea Lehnea is known to us since winning the Premiere Opera Foundation Competition and through a starring role with Teatro Nuovo. She knows how to chew the scenery, so to speak, and, like Mr. Bu, creates characters from whom one cannot turn away. In Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, the eponymous Lucia must, in her Act I aria, give a foreshadowing of her ultimate madness. She is clearly hallucinating and must get the audience to see visions through her eyes. This was thrillingly accomplished by Ms. Lehnea through vocal fireworks known as fioritura, so well composed by Donizetti. All one needs is a stellar coloratura soprano to bring those notes to life and this we got in spades.
Not everyone appreciates the Countertenor fach as much as we do but there was no shortage of applause for Key'mon Murrah who performed "Ah quel giorno ognor rammento" from Rossini's Semiramide. He has a big bright top and was undaunted by the runs, jumps, and trills. The familiar "Parto, parto, ma tu ben mio" from Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito was similarly satisfying.
Bel canto was well represented on the program and Younggwang Park's booming bass was well suited to "Vi ravviso" from Bellini's I Puritani and "Song of the Viking Guest" from Rimsky-Korsakov's Sadko. The voice is substantial, especially in the lower register, and his embouchure permitted vowels that were clear and well matched ensuring a lovely legato in the Bellini. We hope to see him loosen up in his body to match the expressiveness in his voice.
In Mozart's Don Giovanni, Donna Anna must convince the importuning Don Ottavio that she really does love him in "Non mi dir". Chanae Curtis used her bright resonant soprano to convey emotion and let us realize from what source the bel canto composers drew their bags of tricks. This was Mozart laying the groundwork. Showing her versatility, she also performed the "Ave Maria" from Verdi's Otello, showing off the quiet legato of the lines, portraying an innocent woman facing death at the hands of an unreasonably jealous husband.
Speaking of jealous husbands, we enjoyed baritone Spencer Reichman's performance of "E sogno, o realta?" from Verdi's Falstaff. Mr. Reichman did a fine job of using the consonants effectively to convey Ford's jealous rage.
Joseph Saachi's powerful tenor was just right for "Durch die Walder" from Von
Weber's Der Freischutz. We liked the texture of his voice and the way the aria grew in intensity. We got to hear him again in a duet with soprano Amanda Batista when they performed a happier scene from Otello--"Gia nella notte densa". We enjoyed this duet vocally but we wished for more interaction between Otello and Desdemona.
We enjoyed Ms. Batista singing "Donde estas Cristobal?" from Daniel Catán's Florencia en el Amazonas, one of the few contemporary operas that we enjoyed, having seen it some years ago during New York City Opera's heyday. Spanish sings so beautifully and Ms. Batista surely did it justice.
The concert was followed by a buffet dinner at which the singers and the guests mingled and each table had enthusiastic conversation about the performances. It is this interaction that keeps opera alive!
© meche kroop