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, December 7, 2023


 Lighthouse Opera Singers in Act I scene from Verdi's La Traviata

The Bronx is way out of our territory but the one time we went up there last year was to see one of our favorite artists perform the role of Violetta in Verdi's masterpiece La Traviata. How fitting that we got to see her in the ensemble that closed last night's gala--the party scene from Act I of the same opera. We also had the opportunity to hear other members from that same cast, but we will get to that later.

Our dearest pleasure in life is witnessing the growth of young singers. Lyric soprano Shaina Martinez is one of them. We have been writing about her since her time at Manhattan School of Music and watching her expand her repertoire. Last night we particularly enjoyed her performance of "Ernani involami" and are happy to see her expanding into new repertory as her voice grows in dimension. The aria was sung with both depth and breadth of tone and the fireworks of the cabaletta were finely executed, the ornamentation reminding us that Verdi composed on the heels of the bel canto composers we admire so greatly.

We also enjoyed a favorite aria from Bizet's Carmen. Alone and scared in the mountains near Seville, poor Micaëla "whistles in the dark", using her faith to bolster her courage in "Je dis que rien ne m'épouvante". Ms. Martinez successfully conveyed that mixture of terror and resoluteness that we want to see in the character, and did so with grand and powerful singing, filling the hall with overtones and filling the text with meaning.

Her Alfredo from the production we saw last year in The Bronx was tenor Michael Celentano, another singer whose progress delights us. . He made a convincing Don Jose in the final scene from Carmen--as convincing vocally as he was dramatically. We preferred him in that role as he portrayed Don Jose's complex emotions than his portrayal of  Walter von Stolzing from Wagner's Die Meistersinger. The fach of heldentenor may be more accessible somewhere down the road. If we noticed one thing that would top off Mr. Celentano's performance it would be some coaching in French and German.

His Carmen was portrayed by mezzo-soprano Ema Mitrevic whose selections of the evening involved three seductive women. Her defiant Carmen in the death scene with Mr. Celentano was a real hit and more believable than the "Seguidilla" in which she tries to seduce Don Jose with some not very Spanish wiggling. We found her far more believable as Dalilah in "Mon coeur s'oeuvre a ta voix" from Saint-Saëns's Samson et Delilah, creating seductiveness by means of vocal color.

Ms. Mitrevic has stayed in my memory as the Flora in The Lighthouse Opera's La Traviata,  and the fourth singer remembered from that production was tenor Scott Rubén La Marca who had portrayed Gaston. Last night he employed his sweet tenor to portray Ferrando in Mozart's Cosi fan tutte, singing "Un aura amorosa" with youthful romantic ardor.

Where he really shone was in a duet from the final act of Torroba's zarzuela Luisa Fernanda in which the heroine (beautifully sung by Ms. Martinez) tells his character Javier that she cannot marry him. (By a strange coincidence we just heard last night another duet from the same zarzuela!) Although the role of Luisa was written for the mezzo-soprano fach, it posed no challenge for the talented Ms. Martinez and the two singers worked quite well together.

The only other singer on the program that we had heard before was tenor Omar Bowey. Unfortunately, we had not had the chance to witness his vocal growth over the past decade and it was like hearing someone new. We cannot remember what he sounded like that long ago but last night we noticed an interesting vibrato. He injected a lot of dynamic variety into "Dies Bildnis its bezaubernd schön" from Mozart's Die Zauberflöte. However, we enjoyed his portrayal of the Duke in the quartet from Rigoletto even more.

We also got to hear some singers for the first time, which is always exciting. Bass-baritone Charles D. Carter has the resonant low notes and authoritative stage presence to make a fine Sarastro singing "O Isis und Osiris" from Die Zauberflöte. He also made an excellent Sparafucile from Verdi's Rigoletto showing characterological versatility--all the way from heroic to villainous. He offered his assassination skills to the hunchback Rigoletto, excellently realized by baritone Robert McNichols, Jr. who was a guest artist for the evening.

Also new to us was baritone Phillip K. Bullock whom we only got to hear once. His portrayal of the virile and self-satisfied Escamillo in Carmen was memorable,  blending nonchalance and arrogance. It left us wanting more.

Finally, soprano Lisa Eden showed a facility for French in "Depuis le jour" from Charpentier's Louise. We thought this aria suited her voice better than "Piangero la sorte mia" from Händel's Giulio Cesare. Perhaps she just liked the character more.

In the quartet from Rigoletto, Ms. Eden took the role of Gilda, Ms. Mitrovec took the role of Maddalena (another seductive woman!), Mr. Bowey performed the Duke, and Mr. McNichols, Jr. portrayed Rigoletto. The voices balanced perfectly.

As seen in the photo above, the evening concluded with the party scene from Verdi's La Traviata leaving the audience humming.

© meche kroop

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