BWW Review: [Opera] Star Trek - The Next Generation from the Met National Council Finals Concert
Judging by the number of small opera companies in New York alone--see the 2019 New York Opera Fest that starts performances next month--there's no shortage of up and coming opera singers trying to make their way on the scene. But there's no showcase like the Finals Concert of the Metropolitan Opera's National Council Auditions to give a singer a leg up--and this year's group of talented performers seemed to give us more hope than usual that all's right with the world ... at least when it comes to opera.
The afternoon was emceed by countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo, who unfortunately was given shtick rather than song to share with the audience. He recalled his own days as a finalist in the auditions, a decade ago, also giving the basics of how the star-search runs, thanks largely to the efforts of volunteers. Bravo to them!
The program was cut down the middle, with each of the nine finalists given two opportunities to show off different aspects of how they got this far in this most competitive of environments. The largest part of the selections were familiar to anyone who's been in an opera house or recital hall lately, but there were definitely a few exceptions.
One of those came from one of the Final Five--I don't quite understand their judging methods, frankly, to choose five from nine, leaving the others in the lurch (with "just" a $7500 award and a runner-up badge)--the fine lyric baritone, Thomas Glass. He not only showed off the winning quality of his voice in "Captain Ahab, may I speak with you?" from Jake Heggie's MOBY DICK, but also displayed excellent diction that made the lack of supertitles no hardship for the audience.
While I was disappointed that the Heggie was the only 21st century piece that made it on to the program--and happy to have at least that one--I had no complaints about Glass's second selection, Valentin's "Avant de quitter ces lieux" from FAUST, proving his ability to span the centuries with ease and finesse.
Soprano Alaysha Fox brought her elegant, luxurious voice to a rarity--both the aria and the work it came from. These days, Erich Korngold is best known for a single opera, DIE TOTE STADT, and mostly for "Marietta's Lied" (ah, for the Leontyne Price recording). But he was not exactly a one trick pony, even if you don't consider his Violin Concerto or numerous film scores.
DAS WUNDER DER HELAINE (The Miracle of Heliane) may not be in quite the same league as STADT, but the aria "Ich ging zu ihm" proved a superb vehicle to show off the many pleasures of Fox's voice--which had already been quite self-evident in a gorgeous rendition of Dona Ana's "Or sai che l'onore" from DON GIOVANNI.
One performer who chose not one but two unusual selections was Polish tenor Piotr Buszewski, who I first heard last year in a very, very early Donizetti one-acter, IL PIGMILIONE, at NYC Opera. His Donizetti on this program, "Seul sur la terre," was from an opera only slightly better known, DOM SEBASTIEN, and while it was a pleasure to hear him in a later (1837), more sophisticated Donizetti than his previous outing, he was shown to his best in an opera completely foreign [in all senses] to these shores.
While Stanislaw Moniuszko's THE HAUNTED MANOR (STRASZNY DWOR) may be considered one of the most important Polish operas (from the mid 19th century), it's hardly known by more than the rarified cognoscenti (and Polish opera lovers, I suppose) here. The aria chosen by Buszewski was gorgeously melodic--and showed off his lyric voice quite well in an ardent performance--and made me curious about more of the opera.
Another of the Met's Fab Five, was soprano Elena Villalon--only 21!--who delivered an impressive "Oh! quante volte" from Bellini's somewhat lesser-known version of the Romeo and Juliet story, I CAPULETI E I MONTECCHI, with all the embellishment the composer could have asked for. But I was even more taken with her Strauss: Her rendition of Sophie's aria "Ich bin Euer Liebchen sehr verbunden" from DER ROSENKAVALIER shimmered and soared.
I love Lenski's aria, "Kuda, kuda...," from Tchaikovsky's EUGENE ONEGIN, but haven't been particularly wild for the most recent versions at the Met--until tenor Miles Mykkanen took the stage and showed why he was chosen among the competition's standouts, with a soul-searing performance. He showed his strengths as an artist and vocal witchcraft, again, with "Je crois..." from Bizet's PECHEURS DE PERLES, spinning out a fine line that was pure magic.
If there was an award for "M. Congeniality," it surely would have gone to mezzo Michaela Wolz, another of the Chosen Five. She brought amazing personality and charming voice (and ornamentation), first, to Gluck's "Addio addio, o miei sospiri" from ORFEO ED EURIDICE and then to Stefano's aria "Que fais-tu blanche tourterelle?" from Gounod's ROMEO ET JULIETTE, adding some swordplay to the latter.
Although she wasn't among the top choices, soprano Meghan Kasanders, should surely have won for guts alone--starting out the afternoon's festivities with Wagner. "Dich teure Halle" from TANNHAUSER showed she had the vocal chops too. She seconded that impression with "Otkuda eti slezy...," Lisa's aria from Tchaikovsky's QUEEN OF SPADES/PIQUE DAME.
Tenor Dashuai Chen had ardor and then some for his pair of war horses. First, from LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR, there was an appealing "Fra poco a me ricovero," which showed off his dramatic abilities along with voice-to-spare; he followed up with a seductive "Salut! Demeure..." from Gounod's FAUST.
Last but not least of the Fab Five was bass William Guanbo Su--only 24, which is still a baby for a bass-- whose arias kept on the lighter side. First there was "Sorge infausta una procella" from Handel's ORLANDO, with its ornamentation and leaps galore, followed by "Vi ravviso...," from Bellini's LA SONNAMBULA, with its rolling, legato line and measured sensibility.
While the judges went about their break-neck business of anointing the chosen ones after the performances were completed, bass-baritone Christian Van Horn came out to "throw off" the great aria from Verdi's DON CARLO, King Philip's "Ella giammai m'amo." When I interviewed Van Horn after he won this year's Richard Tucker Award, he admitted wholeheartedly that this is a role he lusts after and takes every opportunity to remind impresarios everywhere that he's ready to do it. (The aria was also among those he sang at the Tucker Gala Concert.) He didn't disappoint on Sunday, with a glorious, deeply felt display of artistry.
The Met Orchestra, under Maestro Carlo Rizzi, proved once again its amazing ability to turn on a dime, with so many composers, in so many styles represented on the program. Bravo to them--and to all the participants.