Monday, October 28, 2013

Licia Albanese Puccini Foundation Award Winners Concert

I regret that I have never featured Licia Albanese in these pages.  She is just the sort of singer this blog was created to feature. Her career at the Met spanned the years from 1940 to 1966, singing 427 performances of 17 roles.  She began the Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation in 1974 to pass on the legacy of Italian opera to the next generations of opera singers through master classes, grants and scholarships. Quite a few of the singers in the world's great opera houses have benefited from the support of the Foundation. Ms. Albanese is still very much alive at the age of 100.

Licia Albanese as Cio-Cio San
On Sunday, October 27, I was privileged to hear this year's crop of award winners in concert, and I must say I heard some very fine singing indeed.  There were fourteen grant winners this year, most of whom performed on the concert in the first half. It's impossible to name them all, but to me standouts among the grant winners included tenor Aaron Blake and baritone Ricardo Rivera, who performed the Act IV Rodolfo-Marcello duet from La Boheme; baritone Jamez McCorkle, who sang Ya vas lyublyu from Pique Dame; and soprano Courtney Mills, who sang a passionate and beautiful Ritorna vincitor.

The second half of the concert began with Distinguished Achievement Awards given to winners from previous years who have gained great success. These included Kristin Chavez, Jennifer Check, Jill Grove, Eglise Gutierrez, Carl Tanner, and Ricardo Tamura. With the exception of Mr. Tanner, who was ill, all of these alumni performed arias, to well deserved and enthusiastic applause.  Ms. Chavez gave us a memorably lusty and earthy performance of the Habañera from Carmen. Ms. Check performed a vengeful Vieni t'affretta from Macbeth and Ms. Gutierrez sang a lovely O mio babbino caro. Pianists Arlene Shrut and Jonathan Kelly provided accompaniment for the distinguished alumni.

The remainder of the concert featured prize winners.  My favorites in this group included Second Prize winner Anthony Kalil, who sang an impassioned E lucevan le stelle from Tosca. A big, beautiful sound from a handsome fellow who has already seen the beginnings of a successful career.  I also quite liked First Prize winner Takaoki Onishi, who sang Per me giunto from Don Carlos. And it should surprise no one to read that my favorite singer of all was soprano Jennifer Rowley. She sang a perfectly lovely Come in quest'ora bruna from Simon Boccanegra, her warm soprano gleaming with the dream-like quality of the aria.

Eve Queler, herself a legendary figure in New York's opera world, led an orchestra comprised of members of the Opera Orchestra of New York.  A legend driving the proceedings, a legend at the podium, and surely many legends in the making on the program.  A pretty darn good way to spend a Sunday afternoon.