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From Russia, with AVA love

Helen Corning Warden Theater
12/16/2014 -  & December 17*, 2014
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky: scenes from Pique Dame, Romeo & Juliet, The Maid of Orleans
Anton Rubinstein: scene from The Demon
Sergei Rachmaninoff: scene from Francesca da Rimini

Academy of Vocal Arts’ resident artists, Sofija Petrovic, Anush Avetisyan, Vanessa Vasquez, HuanHuan Ma, Melinda Whittington (soprani), Hannah Ludwig (mezzo-soprano), Jonas Hacker, Galeano Salas, Diego Silva, Alistair Kent, Domenick Chenes (tenors), Daniel Noyola (bass-baritone), Anthony Scheider, Nathan Milholin (basses), Hunter Enoch, Michael Adams (baritones)
Ghenady Meirson (musical director and pianist)

(Courtesy of AVA)

Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker score is heard everywhere in December, but Academy of Vocal Art’s Russian Romances concert, it’s Tchaikovsky arias and Russian rarities that make the performance one of the most memorable musical nights of the year. Musical director Ghenady Meirson, specialist in Russian repertoire showcases the impressive range of AVA’s current roster of resident artists. In previous years, Meirson arranged the concert with shorter arias, ballades and folkloric songs with the singers performing more than one number. This year, Meirson devised the concert with full on scenes from the operas, giving it less of a recital feel.

The opening duet instantly involving, the tender duet between friends from Queen of Spades, with soprano Sofija Petrovic and mezzo Hannah Ludwig making it a soothing concert lullaby. Ludwig, in her first year at AVA, was a breakout star in AVA’s fall production of Rossini’s L’Italiana in Algeri.

Next, tenor Jonas Hacker and soprano Anush Avetisyan (both also very strong in L'Italiana) performed the rose scene from Iolanta, where Vaudemont discovers that Iolanta is blind and through him learns that other people can see. It is a difficult scene dramatically to play out of context of the full opera, but this duo handles it with conviction. Hacker with one or two flare outs at the top end of his otherwise great vocal performance and Avetisyan also holding effortless full dynamic range.

A mid-length scene from Romeo and Juliet with Vanessa Vasquez and Galeano Salas, soprano and tenor, in the climactic duet. Vasquez and Salas held a quality of reserved dramatic presence and intoxicating vocal chemistry.

Then the mini - version of Tchaikovsky’s The Maid of Orleans (Joan of Arc) played as a full-condensed opera. The drama picks up when The Knight Dunois, implores King Charles, distracted from his duties to snap out of it. Hunter Enoch as the Knight, wielding a steeled baritone and great diction, could sing this on any opera stage in the world tomorrow, paired with tenor Diego Silva as the King. When bass-baritone Daniel Noyola enters as the wounded soldier Lauret, this becomes vocally one of Tchaikovsky‘s most dynamic trios.

Bass Anthony Scheider plays Joan’s father Thilbaut d’Arc in the scene where he condemns her a sorceress, and Raymond, tenor Alistair Kent, defends her honor. This duo makes this more than an interlude scene. The climax of Joan choosing her love for Lionel and saintly duty. Soprano HuanHuan Ma and bass Nathan Milholin, soprano and bass, so at ease with technique and the richness of their range.

Meirson premiering Rubinstein’s The Demon this summer for his expansive Russian Opera Workshop at AVA is a musical curio indeed and included this preview scene. A creepy love duet between The Demon and Tamara was meant to be performed by Marina Costa-Jackson and baritone Michael Adams, but Costa-Jackson was asked to appear at Madison Square Garden that night, so Adams performed his solo part in fine voice and wry vocal charm.

Tenor Domenick Chenes and soprano Melinda Whittington (no relation to author) play the illicit lover scene from Rachmaninoff’s Francesca da Rimini. Another challenging scene by itself that underlines how Meirson crafts Russian Romances so expertly performed by these singers. The scene unfolds with Paolo dominating the first half, reading the story of Lancelot, a ruse for confessing his love to Francesca, his sister-in-law. Then Chenes and Whittington have to build the conflicted emotions of the characters to full intensity within a few phrases.

The other delight in this repertoire is to hear how Meirson’s piano accompaniment brings full cultural character. Hearing the steel spine piano transcriptions of these operas is always revelatory and most impressively he gives the singers full support while staying completely in the musical moment.

Lewis Whittington



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