Editor's note: On Nov. 16, we reviewed the first of two concerts, on Nov. 11, in the 2017 edition of the Dallas Opera’s Linda and Mitch Hart Institute for Women Conductors at the Winspear Opera House. There was a second concert on Nov. 18, and below we have added in reports from that concert. The six conductors below are listed in alphabetical order, with our original review from the Nov. 11 concert, and then a review of the Nov. 18 performance. You can read the original review here.
Alba Bomfim, Brazil
NOV. 11: Brazilian Alba Bomfim was immediately an audience favorite with her warm approach to the podium and energetic bow before she even started. Since she appeared in the pivotal sixth position, she conducted two pieces in a row. The first was the cavatina from Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra, “Come in quest'ora bruna.” Sara Gartland brought her lovely soprano voice to the effort, bringing two different moods of the aria, one reminiscing of her childhood and the other the resolution to remember her roots. Bomfim was right with her in both mood and tempo.
Her second assignment was a difficult one, “La Tregenda” from Puccini’s early and rarely performed opera, Le Villi. It is a wild witches dance, casting curses. It gets wilder as it progresses. This was probably the most challenging music on the program to conduct and Bomfim whipped up a storm.
NOV. 18: Bomfim had two new assingments, both duets, and she did a fine job with them. The first was “Orion” from Jennifer Higdon’s opera Cold Mountain with soprano Sara Gartland and baritone Yunpeng Wang. The second was the garden scene from Verdi’s La traviata starting with “Ditte alla giovani” with the same two singers. The chemistry between conductor and singers was at its best in this section.
Mélisse Brunet, France
NOV. 11: Mélisse Brunet from France got a wonderful assignment, conducting Mozart’s delightful overture to his opera, Le Nozze di Figaro. You can probably credit this to nerves, but the overture felt rushed. The tempo was so fast that the players in the excellent Dallas Opera Orchestra were barely able to make the runs in tempo. As a result, the performance was slightly ragged. She did a much better job with her second selection, “Suzel, Buon di,” the so-called “cherry duet” from Mascagni’s rarely performed opera L’ami Fritz. This is the only selection from this opera that is ever heard—usually on duet programs or opera selection concerts such as this one. Tenor Alex Boyer, a last-minute addition to the roster of singers, joined the wonderful Gartland. This is a clever aria about an interaction that will eventually lead to “ever-happy evering” between Fritz and Suzel. Boyer tended to push his voice, which occasionally made the pitch on the sharp side, but he has a fine Italian tenor voice. Opening his mouth more would help. Gartland offered an example of the advantages of opening your mouth widely while singing.
NOV. 18: She repeated the Figaro overture with little more to say with it. In her second appearance, she did a fine job of chasing tenor Alex Boyer, who ignored most of the dynamics written the score, in “Che gelida manina” from Puccini’s La boheme.
Lina Gonzalez-Granados, U.S./Colombia
NOV. 11: Lina Gonzalez-Granados, who claims both the U.S. and Colombia as nationalities, must have drawn the short straw because she was the first one up to conduct. But she was compensated for that by being assigned Mozart’s overture to Die Zauberflöte. The opening three chords are a frequent cause of arguments between conductors on how they should be done. No reasons to go into all that here, but Gonzalez-Granados solved the problem by conducting them one way at the beginning and using another solution when they reoccurred. It worked both times. Her second assignment came at the end of the program and was the only vocal ensemble of the evening: “Qual voluttá trasorrere” from another rarely performed opera, Verdi’s I Lombardi. In this ensemble, a hermit begs the two protagonists, one mortally wounded, to turn to God so that they can meet again in heaven. Gartland and Boyer were joined by the excellent lyric bass-baritone André Courville.
NOV. 18: She repeated Mozart’s overture to Dïe Zauberflote. She did a better job with the architecture of the piece, moving us from beginning to end more smoothly. Her second selection gave us our first glimpse of the excellent countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen, singing a duet from Handel’s opera Rodelinda with soprano Susannah Biller.
Karin Hendrickson, U.S.
NOV. 11: American Karin Hendrickson got a plum assignment to conduct the beautiful Intermezzo from Puccini’s Manon Leascaut. While she certainty had the right idea about how the music should go, she didn’t use a baton and most of her motions were around or below her waist, which had to be difficult for the orchestral players in the back to see. However she was ignited, as were we all, by mezzo-soprano Ewa Plonka’s electrifying performance of “Condotta ell'era in ceppi,”
from Act II of Verdi’s Il Trovatore. This is Azucena’s narrative about how she mistakenly tossed her own son into a fire thinking it was the son of the hated Count. This is one of the most famous blood-and-guts narratives in all of opera. Plonka delivered a blazing performance on the order of Dolora Zajick, the greatest living interpreter of the role.
NOV. 18: Hendrickson repeated both selections.
Carolyn Watson, Australia/U.S.
NOV. 11: Australian/American conductor Carolyn Watson was fortunate to be assigned more from Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro and the personable Courville to sing it. This aria, “Non piu andrai,” is sung by Figaro as he is humorously preparing the youthful Cherubino to go to war. It is best in the context of the opera but Courville did a charming job of covering for all the missing stage business.
NOV. 18: My review of the first concert omitted Watson’s electrifying performance of the ballet music in the witches’ dance from Verdi’s Macbeth. She also conducted another new selection, “Suoni la Tromba” from Bellini’s I putitani. Baritones André Courville and Yunpeng Wang sang it for all it was worth. Watson delivered impressive performances on both concerts.
Monika Wolinska, Poland
NOV. 11: The last conductor on the list was Monika Wolinska from Poland. As with some of the above pairings, Wolinska was lucky to get Chinese baritone Yunpeng Wang to perform what is perhaps the most famous opera aria of all time, “Largo al factotum” from Rossini’s Barber of Seville, with its well-known refrain “Figaro, Figaro, Figaro, Figaro.”
Wang completely inhabited Rossini’s rascally role and gave a definitive performance. Another rehearsal or two would have helped Wolinska to know exactly how Wang was taking this aria full of tempo changes, but she did a fine job of keeping up with him. Her second assignment was a difficult one, another selection from a rarely performed opera, this time the overture to Verdi’s I Vespri Siciliana. This overture incorporates thematic materials yet to come in the opera. This means that there are several changes of mood and tempo. Wolinska did a fine job merging all the disparate materials into a whole and her performance of the overture was quite successful.
NOV. 18: Wolinska repeated the overture but took on a new assignment. This was “Sisters of the Night” from Becoming Santa Claus by Mark Adamo. This opera was a TDO commission and a huge success. She did a fine job of staying with the singers and offering support.