Dallas — The Dallas Opera’s Linda and Mitch Hart Institute for Women Conductors presented the final “graduation” concert of operatic selections that featured the fellows from this, its fifth successful incarnation. The performance, held on Nov. 9 at the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Winspear Opera House, displayed a balanced mix of excellent conducting, effusive singing and some exemplary orchestral playing. That’s three elements that elicit exuberant adjectives, conferred with enthusiasm!
This program was launched five years ago by The Dallas Opera under Keith Cerny, the visionary former General Director and CEO of the company, and inspired by the dynamism that Nicole Paiement, TDO’s Principal Guest Conductor, brings to any endeavor she undertakes. It has also benefited from strong, hands-on involvement from TDO Music Director Emmanuel Villaume, Italian conductor Carlo Montanaro and many other fine musicians.
The institute is sponsored by the munificence of many donors, led by two pairs of opera-loving philanthropists: Linda and Mitch Hart and Enika and Richard Schulze. Over just these few years, the institute has achieved stellar international recognition. But that recognition comes largely from the major careers that the previous laureates have carved out for themselves; earning a distinguished place in what has always been an exclusive gentleman’s club.
Each conductor performed two selections, one orchestral, such as an overture, and one with singer, such as an aria or duet. Things moved along quite briskly in an almost choreographed manner. When one conductor and soloist exited stage right, the next grouping was simultaneously entering from stage left. Good thing too, because the concert ran long.
The singers, all of whom were remarkable, came from a fascinating and highly laudable international opera project called Opera for Peace-Leading Young Voices of the World. It draws on diverse cultural heritages to promote positive universal values and mutual respect. This group of singers were so uniformly impressive that it was difficult to keep my attention on the conductors, which was my primary reviewing assignment.
Taiwanese-American conductor Tiffany Chang is the Visiting Assistant Professor of Conducting at Oberlin Conservatory and an Assistant Professor at the Berklee College of Music. Of all of the conductors, her gestures were the most controlled. She did a good job with all of the many changes that the overture to Verdi’s La forza del destino presents but she rushed the fast sections. She presided over one of the best overall vocal performances, which was bass Chuma Sijeqa’s low-key, but very funny, rendition of “La calunnia” from Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia.
Texan Tamara Dworetz is a 2019 Conducting Fellow for the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music. She gave a sensitive reading of “Frondi tenere...Ombra mai fu” from Handel’s Xerxes. This lovely, and familiar, aria introduced us to the remarkable countertenor Kangmin Justin Kim. Both his creamy voice and keen mastery of Baroque style captured the audience. Her second selection was the beautiful bromance duet “Au fond du temple saint” from Bizet’s Les pêcheurs de perles. While still enjoyable to hear, it was sung by two voices that were not exactly right for the roles. Tenor Ángel Vargas’ Italianate voice lacked the required French sensibilities, and bass Chuma Sijeqa sang the part that is usually assigned to a baritone.
American Jane Kim is the recipient of the 2018 Charles Schiff Conducting Prize. She got the short straw and opened the concert with a rushed and ragged reading of the overture to Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro. Her other selection was much better and introduced us to baritone Andrei Kymach. He sang a virile and cocky version of “Votre toast, je peux vous le rendre” from Bizet’s Carmen and she caught the mood he set in the interludes.
Polish conductor Marta Kluczyńska graduated with degrees in Symphony and Opera Conducting and Piano Studies from The Fryderyk Chopin University of Music in Warsaw. Her overall performance put her in the “outstanding group.” She did a terrific job of capturing all of the many moods of the overture to Rossini’s Guillaume Tell, but the famous Lone Ranger ending was like a runaway horse. Principal cellist Mitch Maxwell played beautifully all evening but was exceptional in the opening solo. Her second selection was the warm duet “Sous le dôme épais“ (Flower Duet) from Delibes’ Lakmé. This introduced us to soprano Meryl Dominguez, and let mezzo Raehann Bryce-Davis show us another side of her noteworthy versatility. In this performance, Kluczyńska gets another gold star for coordination with the singers.
Taiwanese Chi-Chen Madeline Tsai is a versatile musician who has been trained as a conductor, pianist, singer, organist, and timpanist. She opened with “Tu, che di gel sei cinta” (Death of Liu) from Puccini’s Turandot sung by soprano Gabriella Reyes. Because of the dramatic suicide that happens at the end of this aria, it is not a good selection for a program like this. But Tsai tore into the overture to Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia, delivering an exciting performance while still keeping its humorous nature.
Molly Turner is an emerging young conductor from Seattle, Washington. She opened with an excellent performance of “O mio Fernando” from Donizetti’s La favorita that introduced us to the amazing mezzo-soprano Raehann Bryce-Davis. She followed that with the gorgeous duet, “O soave fanciulla” from Puccini’s La bohème with soprano Gabriella Reyes and tenor Ángel Vargas. Reyes was rather bland until she became quite coy near the end. Turner did a good job of matching the text, but the orchestra was too loud throughout. But bravo for singing the ending as written.
Here’s looking forward to what these remarkable women accomplish in the future; and we eagerly await the sixth Hart Institute for Women Conductors.