Fort Worth — In a refreshing change from a procession of pianists, on Oct. 22 The Cliburn presented four young and promising opera singers at the Kimbell Art Museum. This is not a completely new trend. They have presented singers such as Nathan Gunn and Joyce DiDonato (both starring in The Dallas Opera’s Great Scott, opening this week) in solo recitals, but bringing four singers to present a potpourri of popular operatic selections is a departure.
But, why not! These singers are under the nurturing wing of the Metropolitan Opera and are on a tour around the country. This accomplishes two goals: one is to give the singers experience singing in front of many diverse audiences and the other is to promote the Met as an incubator for young singers rather than its perception, deserved or not, as an opera museum.
(Of course, all opera companies have similar programs. Both the apprentice program at the Dallas and Fort Worth operas has produced some fine singers who went on to major careers.)
The four singers—two soprani, one mezzo and a baritone—certainly have the goods. Currently, they either serve as covers at the Met or are fresh from their debuts. All four have an impressive list of prizes from major competitions, something that seems to be de rigueur for young performers, no matter the instrument.
Collaborative pianist Brent Funderbuck offered strong and sympathetic support to the singers. He also offered brief, but informative, bits of information about the selections.
As to the program there was a collection of well-known and well-trod solo selections and a couple of duets. The lack of a tenor prevented them from singing some of the great quartets, which is too bad as it would have given the program some more variety and some thrilling moments. Everything was in sung the original language, but translation sheets were provided and the light, while on the dim side, allowed most of the audience to follow along.
The two soprano voices, Janai Brugger and Amanda Woodbury, were not all that much different from each other. They both started out with two quasi-coloratura arias by Gounod. Woodbury sang an exuberant “Je veux vivre” from Romeo et Juliette and Brugger luxuriated in the roulades of the Jewel Song from Faust. Both are the more recent type of coloratura: more like a lyric soprano with flexibility than the chirpy ones of the past.
The mezzo, Sarah Mesko, is the real thing, with a voice that is dark yet focused. As she later demonstrated, she too has the flexibility to surmount the most challenging virtuoso passagework with ease. However, she began the program with a selection from the most famous mezzo role in the repertoire, “Près des remparts de Séville,” the Seguidilla from Bizet’s Carmen.
The Korean American baritone David Won impressed with a deep, resonant and focused sound that borders on sounding like a bass-baritone. He opened with something that is not so commonly sung: “Or dove fuggo mai? Ah! per sempre” from Bellini’s I Puritani. This opera was revived from the musical dustbin in 1955 when it was revived for Maria Callas and later handed off to Joan Southerland.
On the duet front, Woodbury and Mesko sang “Ah! Guarda sorella” from Mozart’s Cosí fan tutte. In this selection, the two sisters are looking at portraits of their beloveds and extolling their many charms to each other. While concert performances rarely incorporate props, giving each sister a miniature portrait of the two young men would have helped considerably. Instead, they kept showing each other the palms of their hands.
Won and Brugger performed “La ci darem la mana” from Mozart’s Don Giovanni, in which the Don is trying, successfully, to seduce the peasant girl Zerina on her wedding day. Brugger stole the show here, garnering the only laughs of the evening. Once won over, which didn’t take much, she made several comic attempts to get Won off the stage and stop singing.
And so it went.
Standouts were Woodbury’s lovely rendition of “Ch’l bel sogno” from Puccini’s La Rondine and David Won’s sensitive, but a little slow, performance of “O du, mein holder Abendstern” from Wagner’s Tannhäuser.
On the “arias we could do without” list was yet another run-though of “O mio babbino caro” from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, no matter how beautifully Brugger sang it.
The program ended with some of the more operatic selections from Broadway. Brugger did a fine job with “Summertime” from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, even though she over sang this simple lullaby (they all do). Woodbury ended the program with “I Could Have Danced All Night” from My Fair Lady by the program’s only unaccredited composer/lyricist, Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe. All four singers briefly joined in on a reprise of the last line.
It was the only quartet singing we heard.