Monday, April 26, 2010

Music review: Md. soprano, Ohio baritone take top honors at PB Opera contest

Soprano Corinne Winters sings‭ ‬Sempre libera,
‭ ‬from Verdi‭’‬s‭ ‬La Traviata.

By Greg Stepanich

The annual Palm Beach Opera vocal competition Grand Finals concerts are notable each year for two things above all:‭ ‬The atmosphere of fun and interactivity in the audience,‭ ‬and the‭ ‬exceptional level of youthful talent that soon will be replenishing the stores of the opera houses of the world.

Sunday‭’‬s concert,‭ ‬which was the‭ ‬41st in the series that began in‭ ‬1969,‭ ‬saw‭ ‬13‭ ‬young singers competing for about‭ ‬$77,000‭ ‬in prizes,‭ ‬and it ended with the top awards of the afternoon going to a‭ ‬23-year-old baritone from Ohio and‭ ‬a‭ ‬27-year-old soprano from Maryland.

Michael Young,‭ ‬who sang Ford‭’‬s aria‭ (‬È sogno‭? ‬O realtà‭?‬) from Act II of Verdi‭’‬s‭ ‬Falstaff,‭ ‬and Corinne Winters,‭ ‬who sang the‭ ‬Ah,‭ ‬fors’è lui/Sempre libera scene that closes Act I of the same composer‭’‬s‭ ‬La Traviata,‭ ‬deservedly won top honors,‭ ‬and not least because these two singers already have internalized these pieces in a thoroughly operatic,‭ ‬stage-ready way.‭

Young,‭ ‬a singer with a strong,‭ ‬clear voice and a nice top range,‭ ‬was‭ ‬thoroughly‭ ‬believable as Ford,‭ ‬a man who thinks he‭’‬s‭ ‬being cuckolded.‭ ‬But this is also a set piece without a straight-ahead song‭ (‬unlike all the other arias on the program‭)‬,‭ ‬and Young handled its rapid changes of mood masterfully.

Baritone Michael Young sings Ford‭’‬s aria from Verdi‭’‬s‭ ‬Falstaff.

And Winters,‭ ‬who also was chosen the audience favorite by text message at the end of the contest,‭ ‬not only showed off a powerful high E-flat at the end of‭ ‬Sempre libera,‭ ‬she also demonstrated wide emotional range,‭ ‬even in the way she gulped out the syllables of‭ “‬misterioso‭”‬ in‭ ‬Ah,‭ ‬fors’è lui.‭ ‬Winters does not have a huge voice,‭ ‬but it‭’‬s a mature,‭ ‬affecting one,‭ ‬quite well-suited for dramatic roles and a pleasure to hear.

But there was much other good singing Sunday afternoon,‭ ‬which was heard to the accompaniment of the Palm Beach Opera Orchestra under the deft leadership of Metropolitan Opera staff conductor J.‭ ‬David Jackson.‭ ‬One of the most impressive moments came with the second-prize advanced division winner,‭ ‬mezzo-soprano Irene Roberts.

Roberts,‭ ‬27,‭ ‬a member of the Palm Beach Opera‭’‬s Young Artists troupe,‭ ‬has been a familiar face this season,‭ ‬appearing on the mainstage as Elvira in Verdi‭’‬s‭ ‬Otello and as Mercédès in Bizet‭’‬s‭ ‬Carmen,‭ ‬as well as Dorabella in a workshop version of Mozart‭’‬s‭ ‬Così fan tutte.‭ ‬It seems to me that Roberts‭’‬ voice has blossomed over the season,‭ ‬and is now in a powerfully rich phase,‭ ‬with dark coloring and serious lung heft to boot.

The Sacramento,‭ ‬Calif.,‭ ‬native did a smart thing with her choice of aria:‭ ‬Nobles seigneurs,‭ ‬salut‭!‬,‭ ‬from Act‭ ‬I‭ ‬of Giacomo Meyerbeer‭’‬s‭ ‬Les Huguenots.‭ ‬Many prominent mezzos have recorded this aria‭ (‬Marilyn Horne,‭ ‬Frederica von Stade,‭ ‬to name two‭)‬,‭ ‬but it‭’‬s rarely heard in the opera house these days,‭ ‬and it‭’‬s a well-constructed piece‭ ‬that allows the singer to show off some vocal display and long‭ ‬legato‭ ‬phrases,‭ ‬which Roberts did very well.‭ ‬Towards the end,‭ ‬coming off her‭ ‬trill,‭ ‬she demonstrated enviable breath control by holding the final note over into the recurrence of the aria‭’‬s main melody without stopping for air.

Other singers also showed a‭ ‬knowing sense of theatricality,‭ ‬perhaps none quite as charming‭ ‬as baritone R.‭ ‬Kenneth Stavert,‭ ‬25,‭ ‬of Fullerton,‭ ‬Calif.,‭ ‬who won sixth prize in the advanced division with his reading of the‭ ‬Largo al factotum from Rossini‭’‬s‭ ‬Barber of Seville.‭ ‬I would have‭ ‬given him a higher ranking than that‭ (‬third or fourth‭)‬,‭ ‬not just for his funny,‭ ‬audience-pleasing performance of this great comic aria,‭ ‬but for his confident stage manner and his big voice,‭ ‬which had a marked tenor quality to it.

I also‭ ‬liked tenor Edward‭ ‬Mout‭’‬s version of‭ ‬Ah,‭ ‬mes amis,‭ ‬quel jour de fête,‭ ‬from Donizetti‭’‬s‭ ‬La Fille du Regiment.‭ ‬This aria is famous for its nine high Cs,‭ ‬which the San Diego,‭ ‬Calif.,‭ ‬singer sang out with youthful,‭ ‬unforced vigor‭ (‬and he added a couple others at the end,‭ ‬too‭)‬.‭ ‬Mout,‭ ‬30,‭ ‬who won fourth prize in the advanced division,‭ ‬has a good top register,‭ ‬a fine sense of phrasing and a forthright way of putting a song across.‭

Tenor Martin Bakari sings‭ ‬Spirito gentil,‭
‬from Donizetti‭’‬s‭ ‬La Favorita.

Other notable moments:‭ ‬Bass Matthew Anchel‭’‬s forceful rendition of‭ ‬Sorge infausta una procella from Handel‭’‬s‭ ‬Orlando‭; ‬soprano Betty Allison‭’‬s sweet,‭ ‬full-voiced performance of the‭ ‬Song to the Moon from Dvořák‭’‬s‭ ‬Rusalka‭; ‬ tenor Martin Bakari‭’‬s passionate version of‭ ‬Spirito gentil,‭ ‬from Donizetti‭’‬s‭ ‬La Favorita.‭ ‬Also,‭ ‬mezzo Sasha Hashemipour,‭ ‬of San Diego,‭ ‬who won sixth prize in the junior division,‭ ‬has a very large,‭ ‬beautiful voice that perhaps would have been shown to better effect with a different aria‭ (‬she sang‭ ‬Laisse couler mes larmes from Massenet‭’‬s‭ ‬Werther‭)‬.‭ ‬But she‭’‬s only‭ ‬21,‭ ‬and I‭’‬m‭ ‬confident we‭’‬ll hear her again soon.

The Palm Beach Opera Orchestra played quite well throughout,‭ ‬especially in the‭ ‬Falstaff aria,‭ ‬and it did a creditable job with the two overtures‭ ‬– Weber‭’‬s‭ ‬Oberon and Rossini‭’‬s‭ ‬William Tell‭ ‬–it performed while‭ ‬the judges‭ ‬– Leonore Rosenberg,‭ ‬Richard Gaddes,‭ ‬Susana Meyer and Palm Beach Opera artistic director Bruno Aprea‭ ‬– were deliberating.

In the end,‭ ‬the feeling you had at the close of the concert was happiness and optimism,‭ ‬knowing that there is so much fine young talent out there working in this magnificent art form.‭ ‬It‭’‬s one of my favorite events of the season,‭ ‬and this year‭’‬s version did not disappoint.

Soprano Rebecca Nathanson sings‭ ‬Klänge der Heimat,
‭ ‬from Johann Strauss II‭’‬s‭ ‬
Die Fledermaus.


Here is the list of the winners and prizes:

Junior division:‭ ‬Michael Young,‭ ‬23,‭ ‬baritone,‭ ‬of Cortland,‭ ‬Ohio,‭ ‬first prize‭ (‬$5,500‭);‬ Martin Bakari,‭ ‬23,‭ ‬tenor,‭ ‬of Yellow Springs,‭ ‬Ohio,‭ ‬second prize‭ (‬$5,000‭); ‬Matthew Anchel,‭ ‬22,‭ ‬bass,‭ ‬New York City,‭ ‬third prize‭ (‬$4,500‭); ‬Rebecca Nathanson,‭ ‬22,‭ ‬soprano,‭ ‬New Haven,‭ ‬Conn.,‭ ‬fourth prize‭ (‬$3,500‭); ‬Joseph Lattanzi,‭ ‬22,‭ ‬baritone,‭ ‬Macon,‭ ‬Ga.,‭ ‬fifth prize‭ (‬$3,000‭); ‬Sasha Hashemipour,‭ ‬21,‭ ‬mezzo-soprano,‭ ‬San Diego,‭ ‬Calif.,‭ ‬sixth prize‭ (‬$2,000‭)‬.

Advanced division:‭ ‬Corinne Winters,‭ ‬27,‭ ‬soprano,‭ ‬Frederick,‭ ‬Md.,‭ ‬first prize‭ (‬$8,500‭); ‬Irene Roberts,‭ ‬27,‭ ‬mezzo-soprano,‭ ‬Sacramento,‭ ‬Calif.,‭ ‬second prize‭ (‬$7,500‭); ‬Zulimar López-Hernández,‭ ‬30,‭ ‬soprano,‭ ‬San Juan,‭ ‬Puerto Rico,‭ ‬third prize‭ (‬$6,000‭); ‬Edward Mout,‭ ‬30,‭ ‬tenor,‭ ‬San Diego,‭ ‬Calif.,‭ ‬fourth prize‭ (‬$5,000‭); ‬Betty Allison,‭ ‬28,‭ ‬soprano,‭ ‬Ladysmith,‭ ‬B.C.,‭ ‬Canada,‭ ‬fifth prize‭ (‬$4,500‭); ‬R.‭ ‬Kenneth Stavert,‭ ‬25,‭ ‬baritone,‭ ‬Fullerton,‭ ‬Calif.,‭ ‬sixth prize‭ (‬$4,000‭); ‬Rena Harms,‭ ‬25,‭ ‬soprano,‭ ‬Santa Fe,‭ ‬N.M.,‭ ‬seventh prize‭ (‬$3,000‭)‬.

Finalists who did not place also shared a‭ ‬$15,000‭ ‬Palm Beach Opera Guild Encouragement Award.

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