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.

Friday, February 2, 2024


Zankel Hall in the Round 
(Photo by Richard Termine)

Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall underwent a surprising transformation for an in-the-round presentation of the Young Artists Recital, presented as the final offering of the annual SongStudio in which young artists are given a week of coaching, workshops, and master classes,  helmed by the world-renowned soprano Renee Fleming, Artistic Director and Host.

The goal was to shed new light on the art song by adding novel elements-- designed to  bring the audience closer, both physically and emotionally. We wish we'd been able to attend the daily masterclasses as we usually do, but time constraints limited our participation to witnessing the end result without observing the daily progress.

We hope that the goal of bringing new audiences to this art form by endowing it with a fresh perspective was successful.  For our own part, we have always loved art song recitals and have always experienced the requisite intimacy by sitting on the front row. For this experience we were sitting rather far back and therefore felt rather less intimacy. To be fair, far back was not very far back because Zankel Hall had been reconfigured with the audience on all sides and the artists in the center. This must have been a challenge for the singers who were obliged to move around more than usual which could also be seen as a benefit. There was no "park and bark", an expression which grates on us as much as does the stolid stance.

The "theater-in-the-round" concept has been used off-Broadway with mixed results. The negatives are that the audience always feels that they are missing something when the performers' backs are turned. In the case of art songs in a foreign language, there seems to be no way to project titles.

On this particular evening, scenes were semi-staged with more than one singer on the "stage" (performing area?} at the same time with one of them reading the text. If they were rather minimally poetic in their reading, it can be excused by their being singers, not poets. The advantage was that the audience did not have to try to read translations and were able to focus on the singers. Were we meant to feel as if we were participating in a salon? Perhaps it will take awhile to adjust to this particular form of concert but we were left with mixed feelings.

Aside from the readings and the attempt at creating a scenario, we were "treated" to a dancer in a white garment who performed some kind of shapeless modern dancing that did nothing to echo or enhance the singing but served more as a distraction.

Aside from our mixed feelings about the staging, we enjoyed the young singers a great deal and found absolutely no disappointment in their collaborative pianists, who also participated in the week of coaching and workshops.

We loved the opening number--Brahms' "Ein kleiner, hübscher Vogel" from his Liebeslieder Walzer. The voices of soprano Khayakazi Madlala, mezzo-soprano Gabrielle Barkidjija, tenor Edmond Rodriguez, and bass-baritone Florian Störtz balanced beautifully and wove a tapestry of sound that was charming in its deceptive simplicity. Pianists were Jeong-Eun Lee and Yuriko Watanabe. We would have been content to sit there all night and listen to the entire song cycle which we adore.

But then we might have missed the riveting performance by counter-tenor Chuanyuan Liu of an 11th c. Chinese song by Su Chi entitled "When will the clear moon shine?". We hope we are not alone in loving Chinese art song and we grant that not everyone loves the counter-tenor fach as much as we do. The cadence of the language and the eerie sound of the voice filled us with emotion. How amazing that should occur ten centuries after the song was composed!  Mr. Yuan's collaborative pianist was Ye In Kwak.

We also responded to his performance of Fauré's "La lune blanche"and George Crumb's "Night" all accompanied by Ms. Kwak. How interesting that all three of his selections related to the moon!

There were so many other highlights. We always love hearing Debussy's Songs of Bilitis and mezzo-soprano Ruby Dibble, accompanied by Tzu Kuang Tan performed it with as much delicacy, mood shifts, and dynamic variation as one could wish for.

Similarly, baritone Gabriel Rollinson's interpretation of Ravel's Don Quichotte à Dulcinée captured the varying moods of the songs, transitioning readily from the romantically worshipful to the prayerful to the bibulous. And then--Surprise!--Ibert's elegiac "Song of Death" from his cycle Chansons de Don Quichotte et Chanson de Sancho. We have never heard them sung on the same program but in that order it worked magnificently. Collaborative pianist was Ms. Watanabe.

Settings of text by Shakespeare were well handled by baritone Felix Gygli who moved comfortably between the styles of various composers.  Our favorite was Korngold's setting of "Come Away Death".  Pianist was Aleksandra Myslek.

Ms. Madlala conveyed the perfume of the linden blossom in Joseph Marx's "Nocturne", accompanied by Natalie Sherer. Another German song we love is Alma Mahler's "Laue Sommernacht" performed by Mr. Störtz and Ms. Lee. With a similar mood but in a different language (Russian) Mr. Rodriguez sang Rachmaninoff's "Night is Mournful" accompanied by Daniel Peter Silcock.

Mr. Stortz brought the program to a stunning conclusion with Mahler's "Um Mitternaacht", accompanied by Ms. Lee.

There was one selection on the program that seemed just wrong. It was a prosy anti-war "lecture" with obvious and jejune sentiments, a text of the composer's own devising.  "What Can One Woman Do?" by Stacy Garrop. That one should have stayed at home.

© meche kroop

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