The Licia Albanese – Puccini Foundation
Presents in Concert the Winners of the
International Vocal Competition 2014
(dedicated to the memory of Licia Albanese)
Members of the Opera Orchestra of New York
Eve Queler, Conductor
Honoring Stephen De Maio, Artistic Director
Hosted by Brian Kellow, Features-Editor, Opera News
At Frederick P. Rose Hall
Home of Jazz at Lincoln Center
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
October 26, 2014
Licia Albanese made her United States debut at the Metropolitan Opera in 1940 and remained with the company for 26 seasons. The Italian soprano, who eventually became an American citizen, was especially renowned as Cio-Cio San in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, as well as Mimi in Puccini’s La Bohème and Violetta in Verdi’s La Traviata. Ms. Albanese, who died on August 15, 2014, at the age of 105, founded the Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation to fund American and international opera singers, composers, conductors, and musicians, while she donated coaching lessons, study grants, and master classes, in an effort to expand the world of opera and the appreciation of Giacomo Puccini. Ms. Albanese’s son spoke eloquently of his mother’s dedication to her career and her mission.
Today’s afternoon concert at Rose Theater, within the Jazz at Lincoln Center Rose Hall, also honored the memory of patron, Rose Braverman, operetta star, Marta Eggerth, the Reverend Vincent J. Termine, and State Senator Roy Goodman, all of whom passed away within the past year. Before, during, and after today’s event, to showcase the winners of the Foundation’s 2014 Vocal Competition, there were greetings by: Sachi Liebergesell, President of the Foundation; the Deputy Consul-General of Italy; Brian Kellow, today’s entertaining and dynamic Host; Brian O’Connor, Vice President of the Foundation; and Stephen De Maio, Artistic Director, who was also honored today.
An expansive array of truly impressive opera singers, classified as Honorees, performed today, accompanied by Arlene Shrut and Jonathan Kelly on piano. The Top Awardees and Grant Winners, some singing in duo, were accompanied by the fine-tuned and highly professional Members of the Opera Orchestra of New York, with Eve Queler conducting. In one performance she even had a bit part in operatic conversation. The Honorees were Lisette Oropesa, soprano, singing from Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore, John Matz, tenor, singing from Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, Lori Phillips soprano, singing from Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West, Roberto Iarussi, tenor, singing from Puccini’s Turandot, and Jan Cornelius, singing from Puccini’s Manon Lescaut. Each aria was sung theatrically and with warm, vibrant tones, in elegant, expressive fervor. They were accompanied with understated showcase by one of the two pianists, so that the pure vocalization could fill Rose Theater. The audience was audibly enthused with extensive accolades.
In total, there were thirteen arias sung by Grant Winners, with four sung in duo. Ewa Nino and Jarrett Ott sang a duet from Rossini’s Il Barbière Di Siviglia, with comic, coy flirtation, Alexandra Schenck and Ricardo Rivera sang a duet from Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, with orchestral flute and woodwind effect, Marina Costa-Jackson and Jared Bybee sang a duet from Mozart’s Don Giovanni, before they romantically dashed offstage, and Mingjie Lei and Brian Vu, sang a duet for two men from Bizet’s Les Pêcheurs de Perles, with long flute and woodwind solos. The one solo singer in the first half of the program was Kidon Choi, baritone, who sang from Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci, with warmth and vivacity, accompanied by solo cello phrases.
The second half of the program featured today’s top prize winners, in reverse order, Fifth Prize to Top Award. Each was given an envelope with the award check as they left the stage, to a round of applause. Paul Han, tenor and Fifth Prize Winner, in a fancy black tux, sang from Delibes’ Lakme, with endearment and effusiveness. The high quality and presence of Eve Queler and the Opera Orchestra cannot be overstated, as this seasoned group filled the Theater with such rich, resonant musicality. The Fourth Prize Winner, mezzo-soprano, Shirin Eskandani, sang from Rossini’s La Cenerentola, in a cognac-colored gown that matched her cognac-smooth voice. We were now hearing la crème de la crème. The first Third Prize Winner, mezzo-soprano, Virginie Verrez, sang from Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier, with drama and maturity.
The second Third Prize Winner, soprano, Courtney Johnson, sang from Puccini’s Turandot, in enveloping and shimmering tones. The Second Prize Winner, baritone, Alexey Lavrov, sang from Puccini’s Edgar, with astounding strength and presence. The first of the First Prize Winners, soprano, Rebecca Pedersen, sang from Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci, accompanied by violins, harp, and flutes, with scintillating shimmer. The second of the First Prize Winners, bass baritone, Ryan Speedo Green, sang from Mozart’s Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail, with charisma and deep, breathtaking tonality. The final performance was the winner of the Top Award, tenor, Benjamin Bliss, who sang “Una furtiva lagrima” from Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore, with poignancy and mastery. Kudos to all, and kudos to Licia Albanese.
Licia Albanese as Cio-Cio San
in a 1940's production of Puccini's "Madama Butterfly"
Courtesy of the Gerda Lissner Foundation