Friday, March 31, 2006


Dear readers -- I've been remiss in writing posts because I've actually been too busy going to performances. Nevertheless I'll try to post a notice on tonight's Don Pasquale, though going to three performances in the two days after may get in the way a bit.

Then, at some point, catch-up posts going back to Forza. I promise.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Met Council Finals 2006

Sunday brought the Metropolitan Opera National Council Grand Finals Concert (52nd edition). Nine singers offered two arias each. They were, in order:

Jonathan Beyer, baritone
"Bella siccome un angelo" (Don Pasquale)
Papageno's suicide scene (Magic Flute)

Nikki Einfeld, soprano
"O luce di quest'anima" (Linda di Chamounix)
Willow Song (Ballad of Baby Doe)

Paul Corona, bass
"Vi ravviso, o luoghi ameni" (La Sonnambula)
"La calunnia" (Barber)

Holli Harrison, soprano
"L'altra notte" (Mefistofele)
Song to the Moon (Rusalka)

Seth Keeton, bass-baritone
"O beauty, o handsomeness, goodness!" (Billy Budd)
"Wie schön ist doch die Musik" (Die Schweigsame Frau)


Donovan Singletary, bass-baritone
"Sorge infausta una procella" (Orlando)
"Non più andrai" (Figaro)

Katherine Jolly, soprano
"Durch Zärtlichkeit und Schmeicheln" (Abduction)
"Grossmächtige Prinzessin" (Ariadne)

John Michael Moore, baritone
"O vin, dissipe la tristesse" (Hamlet)
"Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen" (Magic Flute)

Marjorie Owens, soprano
"D'Oreste, d'Ajace" (Idomeneo)
"To this we've come" (The Consul)

None of the singers were bad, but none really stood out the way, e.g., Latonia Moore, Twyla Robinson, or Susanna Phillips have in recent years. The winners were Corona, Harrison, Singletary, Jolly, and Owens, but everyone I talked to seemed to have a different idea of who should have won (and none agreed with the official jury).

Interestingly, there were more men than women in this final lineup -- and the men were, on the whole, more interesting. Also, no mezzos. Both unusual.

Jonathan Beyer (a 24-year-old from Curtis) was, I thought, was the most musical of the group, with a firm and seemingly-innate sense of how to shape a phrase and show character. The sound was pleasant though not huge, which -- though conductor Patrick Summers was drowning them out all afternoon -- may have hurt his rating with the judges. But he performed his two pieces so as to make one sit up and listen.

Nikki Einfeld (28, and former SFO Adler Fellow) did pretty well with her (very ornamented) Donizetti aria, and had her admirers. I found her basic sound of mixed appeal, with some parts pretty, others not so much -- the Donizetti's introductory recitative started things off unhappily -- and a bit of underlying sourness that I wasn't sure was interesting or just sour. Also, I couldn't understand much of her English.

Paul Corona (a senior at Northwestern) was, I think, picked purely on future potential. Not many 22-year-old basses have his instrument's natural amplitude, and he showed a willingness to move and attempt a phrase, though I found those aspects of his performance boring. (But Beyer set a high bar here.)

Holli Harrison, also 28, had an impressively focused and loud middle and top, though a bit white for my liking. Unfortunately her selections didn't show too much else. The Boito was a waste -- if, like most well-schooled young singers, you're not going to use chest, why bother? The Dvorak made a better impression, though again I found the non-sonic aspects sort of boring.

More interesting were the offerings of Minnesota Opera's 30-year-old Seth Keeton, who gave good renditions of two lesser-known selections. But despite its true, pleasing bass-baritone timbre, his voice failed to make an impact at the Met. I wouldn't mind hearing him in a smaller house, though.

Donovan Singletary -- another 22-year-old -- seemed to be the only singer everyone liked. His dark, leanish bass-baritone impressed in both pieces, though his gesticulation in the Mozart was way over the top.

28-year-old high soprano Katherine Jolly did well enough in getting through the Zerbinetta aria, but... The lower and middle voice is barely there, and the general tone isn't particularly pretty. Again, the impulse to act was there, but wasn't quite well-realized. Some wags suggested afterward that her association with Opera Theater of St. Louis and that company director's presence on the jury was what got Jolly a "win". This seems plausible in part (considering the general parity of the contestants), but honestly hadn't occurred to me at all -- I figured it's because a fairly sound high soprano is bound to be useful, at the least.

The most beautiful sound of the afternoon was actually that of 24-year-old baritone John Michael Moore, whose Hamlet aria was mellifluously delicious. The Papageno showed him in more recessed voice, however, for whatever reason.

The final singer, 25-year-old Marjorie Owens of Lyric Opera's young artists' program, had the most ambitious pairing. Elettra's mad scene, and then... most of the audience surely remembered the last Council Finals performance of the Menotti -- a stupendous outpouring by 2002 winner Twyla Robinson (and why, incidentally, is she not yet singing Strauss at the Met?) that brought the house down. Owens didn't -- with either aria -- but her voice, maybe the only interesting female one of the afternoon, did show an exciting edge to its sound.

*     *     *

I would have picked Beyer, Singletary, Moore, and Owens (and perhaps Corona as well -- for potential only). Passing over Moore seemed particularly bizarre. But one could make a case for any -- or none -- as "winners".

But how one sounds on the afternoon of the Met Council Finals -- or any other competition day -- isn't necessarily destiny. One of the least impressive Council Finals performances I remember was Simon O'Neill's in 2002. Agonizingly squeezed, unpleasant high notes that were hardly integrated into the rest of the voice. Yesterday, however, he sang as a guest artist, showing much, much better form in "In fernem Land" -- prompting host Ben Heppner (whom, I believe, O'Neill is covering in next month's Lohengrin) to joke about hearing footsteps...

Margaret Jane Wray, also in that Lohengrin cast and terrific as Sieglinde a year or so back, sounded rather worse than usual in the other guest artist offering, "Dich, teure Halle". An aberration, I hope, as she is one of my favorite Wagnerians.

UPDATE (3/29): Maury D'Annato has some more, uh, thoughtful thoughts on the participants.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

For the second year running...

Lindemann recitals at the Goethe-Institut.

Lots to hear, for the curious. Sadly the hyper-intense Russell Thomas has already done his, but he seems to be getting more prominent engagements already.

What I missed

Mazeppa. Luisa Miller, including the house (bit part) debut of prodigiously talented young mezzo Tamara Mumford. The Levine news. Fidelio's dress rehearsal. And anything anyone might have written in the last three weeks -- internet or dead tree.

What I didn't miss: Magdalena Kozena looking remarkably like an extra from The Lord of the Rings at her recital. (Sadly, the singing wasn't as memorable. From her American debut on, Kozena performances -- last fall's Cosis aside -- keep leaving the impression that they really ought to be better than they are.) Second-cast replacements that helped make a much better Forza tonight.

What kicks off Monday: Mattila month at the Met. Don't miss it.