Monday, March 02, 2009

Met Council Finals 2009

Sunday, February 22, was the 2009 edition of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Grand Finals Concert. Eight finalists -- fewer than usual -- sang. As last year, each offered one aria -- in this order -- then, after the break, all sang another. Patrick Summers and the Met Orchestra provided excellent accompaniments.

Anthony Roth Costanzo (countertenor, 26)
"Rompo i lacci" (Flavio)
"Stille amare" (Tolomeo)

Noah A. Baetge (tenor, 28)
"Fra poco a me ricovero" (Lucia)
"Pourquoi me reveiller" (Werther)

Kiri Dyan Deonarine (soprano, 24)
"Piangero la sorte mia" (Giulio Cesare)
"The trees on the mountains" (Susannah)

Paul Appleby (tenor, 25)
"Dal labbro" (Falstaff)
"O wie ängstlich" (Abduction)

Sarah Mesko (mezzo, 24)
"Svegliatevi nel core" (Giulio Cesare)
"All'afflitto e dolce il pianto" (Roberto Devereux)

Sung Eun Lee (tenor, 30)
"Ah! leve-toi, soleil!" (Romeo & Juliette)
"La donna e mobile" (Rigoletto)

Nadine Sierra (soprano, 20)
Juliette's waltz (Romeo & Juliette)
"Ruhe sanft" (Zaïde)

Jessica Julin (soprano, 28)
"Non, cet affreux devoir... Je t'implore" (Iphigenie en Tauride)
Lisa's aria (Queen of Spades)

Costanzo, Appleby, Lee, and Sierra were chosen as winners.

It's a truism that disappointing years at the Council Finals alternate with exciting ones, but not so much this time. 2008 offered one outstanding singer and some pleasant but unexciting compatriots; in 2009 -- despite a high overall standard of professionalism and competence -- none really set the heart racing.

This was no particular fault of Costanzo's. He was easily the most musical of the bunch, impressively engaged and showing a good sense of rhythm, phrase, word, and dynamics. He's also, however, a countertenor, and there's only so much that clever dynamic variation can do to compensate for the essentially unvarying and limited colors inherent in the voice-type. I admire his skill, but have no interest in seeing him in anything besides, say, Midsummer Night's Dream.

Baetge gave perhaps the most vocally impressive of the day's performances in the Lucia aria. Werther went less well, however -- did this cost him a prize? His languages could use work.

Deonarine probably wasn't one of the best performers on the day, but I thought she might have the most potential. Her interpretive skills aren't mature -- though the Floyd was done with nice sincerity -- and the sound could use a bit more polish but there's a core of steel in her lyric soprano that should serve her well in big houses like this one. (Also, she's attractive, which doesn't hurt.)

Appleby was an odd choice. Something in his high note production struck me as off even after he settled down his pitch issues in Fenton's excerpt. He has a generally pleasant enough sound and the Abduction was certainly fluent, but I'm not sure what earned him winner status.

Mesko has the core of a nice mezzo voice but the top is a bit edgy and not quite integrated. Her first selection, unfortunately, heavily highlighted this issue.

Lee is a broad-shouldered Korean guy who sounded, in Romeo's aria, uncannily like Roberto Alagna -- timbre, pronunciations, everything. (I suppose he's studied the records...) His phrasing and onstage manner were efficient, decisive, and controlled -- not exactly inspiring, but effective. I'm not sure how reliably securely his high notes will come out over the course of time, but he pulled out a nice one to close the Rigoletto selection.

From looking at Sierra's resume I was sure she wasn't actually 20, but it turns out that she is. She already seems to be approved by the right people, so her winning here should be no surprise. That said, I couldn't stand her voice. The bottom is recessed even for a high soprano, and there's a graininess to the sound on top that's unappealing. Where Lee was controlled and minimalist, Sierra was the opposite: effusive and helterskelter. She is, of course, young -- nowhere near the finished artist that 21-year-old Lisette Oropesa showed herself in 2005.

Finally, Julin has an appealing fire-eating manner and performed the heck out of the Tchaikovsky scene (I would have been much happier to have heard her in it than loud soprano Maria Guleghina last fall), but the climactic notes showed an uncomfortable amount of vibrato under pressure. Some people I spoke to thought her "really" a mezzo, which might explain something...

*     *     *

After a well-schooled but basically magic-free lineup like this, I wonder if more interesting singers weren't eliminated through different selectors picking for different qualities over different rounds. Too bad. I hope for better next time.


  1. Dear JSU, Thank you! Thank you! I was hoping for your review of the National council finals (was there on last Sunday sitting at the first row of orchestra ans was very disappointed). I was very upset about the winning of Sierre (can't stand her voice / act, a new Battle, maybe). I liked Ms. Julin a lot. People keep complaining that there are no new singers with big voices, yet as we have seen in these kinds of competition again and again, the winners are mostly small voiced.

    What do you think of Herr Hampson as the host? He sure loved to talk! My favorite part of the experience was to get to see David Chen in action so close.

  2. Wow!! I have just found this and am stunned!! You can't stand Nadine Sierra's voice??? What complete idiots you people are!! Anyone who knows anything about opera, vocal technique, and just what plain vocal beauty is can not deny the talent of this young lady. There is a REASON why she is "approved by the right people," a.k.a Marilyn Horne, probably the best mezzo voice ever heard throughout the 20th century. I think her opinion holds a little more merit than your clearly very uneducated one. With NS, it is not even a matter of opinion, her talent and the sheer beauty of her voice is just indisputable. period.


Absolutely no axe-grinding, please.