Gerda Lissner Foundation presents winners of the 2015 International Vocal Competition

April 21, 2015 By Nino Pantano Special to Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Host Brian Kellow, Pianists Jonathan C. Kelly and Arlene Shrut and vocal competition winners. Photos by Don Pollard
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On the afternoon of Sunday, April 12, The Gerda Lissner Foundation presented the International Vocal Competition winners of 2015 at the intimate Judy and Arthur Zankel Hall around the corner from Carnegie Hall on 57th Street and 7th Avenue, Manhattan.

Foundation President Stephen De Maio proudly recalled the hundreds of young men and women whose careers over the years were boosted by the awards and scholarships given through the Gerda Lissner Foundation.

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De Maio then introduced famed Metropolitan Opera soprano Diana Soviero, who presented an award to Lenore Rosenberg, associate artistic administrator of the Metropolitan Opera. Rosenberg travels worldwide to secure casting of secondary roles and covers for the Met Opera seasons. Among her many responsibilities, she is artistic administrator for the Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, S.C. She spoke briefly and eloquently of her love for opera and the courage and tenacity that go into the making of an operatic career.

Following this presentation, host Brian Kellow, author and features editor of Opera News, introduced the 17 competition winners of 2015. The exciting new singers were accompanied by piano wizards Arlene Shrut and Jonathan C. Kelly.

The first part of the program began with “O Isis und Osiris” from Mozart’s The Magic Flute sung by Wei Wu. Wu is the possessor of a fine basso and his warm cavernous tones added a special sense of sanctity and nobility to this popular aria.

Kirsten MacKinnon gave us a sprightly “Jewel Song” from Gounod’s Faust. Her sparkling soprano evoked waves dancing in the sunlight as she saucily negotiated the coloratura terrain of an innocent beguiled by jewels, making her an impressive Marguerite.

Nicole Haslett sang “Ah! Douce Enfant” from Massenet’s “Cendrillon” in the tradition of Lily Pons and Beverly Sills. She revealed a coloratura soprano voice of both strength and agility combined with personal charm.

Mingjie Lei sang an introspective, pensive “Una Furtiva Lagrima” from Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore” as a tenore di grazie with a cutting edge. The cadenza and finale were impressively done, and Lei creates the mood of love’s longing in a heartfelt way.

Megan Marino sang “Must the Winter Come So Soon” from Samuel Barber’s “Vanessa.” Her emotional fervor plus her mellow mezzo plumbed the depths with passion and like a good cognac warmed the soul.

Jarrett Lee Ott used his radiant powerful baritone to sing “Mein Sehnen, Mein Wahnen” from Korngold’s “Die Todt Stadt” with burnished lows and heavenly pianissimos.

Obed Floan sang “Nothung! Nothung!” from Wagner’s “Siegfried” in a voice of spun gold. It had the brilliance and power of a fjord blessed with bel canto sunshine. 

The second part of the program began with baritone John Viscardi singing “Largo al Factotum” from Rossini’s “Barber of Seville.” Viscardi gave a stirring account of this “patter” aria and sang with some astonishing cadenzas, great panache and élan. The audience was carried away with the fun and captivated by his zestful antics as well!

Young Patrick Guetti sang “Il Lacerato Spirito” from Verdi’s “Simone Boccanegra.” Guetti  has the potential to become a world-class basso and is gaining in interpretive skills. His final subterranean “Prego, Maria, per Me” was absolutely thrilling! 

Baritone Sol Jin sang “Di Provenza il Mar, il Suol” from Verdi’s “La Traviata.” He revealed a plangent baritone with a beautiful top, well suited for Verdi. Jin sang with a magical poignancy and a passion that was inspired.

Tenor William Davenport sang a well-balanced “Che Gelida Manina” from Puccini’s “La Boheme” with lovely tone and manly grace.

Jared Bybee sang “Io Morro” from Verdi’s” Don Carlo.” Bybee’s dramatic baritone, superb in declamatory utterance and soaring in the melodic terrain was a tour de force.

J’nai Bridges regaled the audience with “O Ma Lyre Immortelle” from Gounod’s “Sappho.” Her rich, dark, amber mezzo with haunting ravishing beauty took us from a chill to thrill journey ending on a high note that seemed to come from her soul and echoed throughout the hall.

Tomsky’s aria from Tchaikovsky’s “Pique Dame” was superbly sung by baritone Michael Adams, whose powerful cries of “Tre Cardi” (three cards) took us into the world of gambling and obsession. A bravura performance in excellent Russian!

Marina Costa-Jackson is always fascinating to see and hear. Her singing of “Morro, Ma Prima in Grazia” from Verdi’s “The Masked Ball” was both visually and vocally stunning. Even in tone from thrilling top to burnished bottom, one is amazed both by the quantity and quality of sound that her luscious soprano possesses. She is a treasure and in good hands.

Reginald Smith Jr. beguiled us in “Lawd Jesus, Heah My Prayer!” from Gruenberg’s “The Emperor Jones.” Like Mt. Kilimanjaro, a divine sublime force of nature. Smith’s lusty baritone and his declamatory phrases were both beautiful and profoundly moving to hear. Like Lawrence Tibbett, he is  a real singing actor!

Lastly “The Bell Song” from Delibes’ “Lakme” was sung by Kiri Deonarine, whose coloratura soprano flooded Zankel Hall with stunning cadenzas, roulades and flourishes sung with seemingly effortless abandon. It’s all in the family, since her dad is famed Met Opera baritone Kim Josephson.

The “top prize” General division by the Liederkranz Foundation was awarded to Kiri Deonarine, presented by Joseph Pfeifer, who also awarded tenor Floan the third prize in the Wagnerian division.

After the performance, the audience went to the New York Athletic Club on Central Park South for a cocktail reception and sumptuous dinner. In the glittering crowd of several hundred was the ebullient Don Di Grazia from the Metropolitan Opera patron ticket service with his wife Chi, son Damian and girlfriend Judith. Other operatic glitterati were Opera News writer Scott Barnes, Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation President Sachi Liebergesell, Editor of Opera News F. Paul Driscoll, legendary Met soprano Elinor Ross, soprano Patricia Kadvan from New York Grand Opera, Met mezzos Rosalind Elias and Jane Shaulis with husband Joseph Gasperec from Opera Index, conductors Eve Queler and Jan Wnek; Gloria Gari, (Giulio Gari Foundation),veteran Met Opera basso James Morris, soprano and lecturer Jane Marsh, Gerda Lissner judges and sopranos Teresa Apolei and Gerda Lissner, trustee Barbara Ann Testa, Midge Woolsey from PBS and husband Jerry Stolt. Brooklyn-born soprano Elaine Malbin sang with Mario Lanza and was a pioneer in opera on television. Other Brookynites we recognized were Opera Index Vice President Janet Stovin, who gave us her memories of Ebbets Field, and commentator-vocal coach Ira Siff and manager Ken Benson, both featured on the Saturday afternoon opera broadcasts. Also present were Cav. Uff. Aldo Mancusi and wife Lisa from the Enrico Caruso Museum, which is located in Brooklyn. 

We no longer root for the Brooklyn Dodgers, but we all root for the young competition winners and pray for many more “home runs” from these talented singers. It was a pleasure to greet our much loved host Steve De Maio, the industrious president of the Gerda Lissner Foundation, with board members Karl Michaelis and Michael Fornabaio and coordinators Cornelia Beigel and Joyce Greenberg. This outstanding organization, founded by the late Gerda Lissner, is keeping opera alive and well. 

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