On the Beat

Courville, Mesko, Evans win top prizes at L.A.’s Loren L. Zachary Competition; O’Hara is brilliantly in the moment in The King and I.

On the Beat Zachary sm 815
First-prize winner Courville with Nedra Zachary
© Alma Guzman 2015
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O’Hara gleams in The King and I
© Paul Kolnik 2015

“You will leave here assured that great singing will abound in the future,” promised NEDRA ZACHARY, as she presided over the forty-third Grand Finals concert of the LOREN L. ZACHARY SOCIETY FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS on May 17 at Los Angeles’s Wilshire Ebell Theatre. By the end of the afternoon, after experiencing the talent on display, few would have challenged her. While there are numerous New York organizations that provide ample support for young opera singers, the Zachary Society is something of a lone wolf in Los Angeles. It boasts an impressive roster of past winners, many of whom have gone on to major international careers. 

This year’s competition was dominated by the lower male voices. First-prize winner ANDRÉ COURVILLE, a superb bass-baritone, made a compelling case for Lucrezia Borgia’s “Vieni, la mia vendetta” and unleashed charm and confidence for days with “L’air du tambour-major,” from Thomas’s Caïd, taking home $12,500 in the process. The gifted mezzo SARAH MESKO justly won the $10,000 second prize with her impeccably polished Seguidilla from Carmen and La Clemenza di Tito’s “Deh, per questo.” Baritone ANTHONY CLARK EVANS was the third-prize winner ($8,000) with “Avant de quitter ces lieux” and “Si può?”— though Evans has shown up far better in other competitions. Fourth prize ($6,000) was awarded to baritone JARED BYBEE, with “Per me giunto … Io morrò,” from Don Carlo; Bybee acquitted himself well, but his voice could use more of a dome on it if he wants to stand out from the crowd. Baritone MICHAEL ADAMS took the fifth prize ($4,000), brandishing a beautiful, evenly produced, nicely ripe sound in “Come Paride,” from L’Elisir d’Amore, and “O vin, dissipe la tristesse,” from Hamlet. Sixth prize ($3,150) went to tenor DOMINICK CHENES, who made an impressive showing with “Ma se m’è forza perderti,” from Un Ballo in Maschera, but pushed his essentially lyric instrument beyond his comfort zone in “Nessun dorma.” Grants of $1,600 each were awarded to sopranos ELIZABETH BALDWIN, CHELSEA CHAVES and JULIE DAVIES and bass-baritone NICHOLAS BROWNLEE. FRANK FETTA conducted the LOS ANGELES PERFORMING ARTS ORCHESTRA, and JOSEPH GIVENS made an elegant host.

At a post-concert dinner at Magliano’s Little Italy, I was struck by the enormous pride the Zachary’s supporters take in the organization. It is the kind of pride that is only possible, I think, in a place like Los Angeles, where the ever-present shadows of the pop-music and movie industries loom large. In New York, I often can’t escape the feeling that I’m at just another opera event. At the Zachary, I felt I was witnessing a huge outpouring of gratitude and affection from opera-loving Angelenos, who don’t for a minute underestimate the added value the Zachary Society brings to their city’s wealth of culture.  

In his 1988 memoir,  A Life, ELIA KAZAN recalls directing ROBERT ANDERSON’s 1953 drama, Tea and Sympathy. In particular, he remembers the “immaculate delicacy” of DEBORAH KERR in the role of Laura Reynolds, a schoolmaster’s wife who helps a young student prove to himself that he isn’t gay: “No matter what Deborah was doing — in this case, being unfaithful to her husband on behalf of a troubled young student — it was impossible to believe it was for any reason except the most decent and honorable.”

That observation came back to me in early June, when I was watching KELLI O’HARA as Anna Leonowens in Lincoln Center Theater’s magnificent revival of The King and I, attentively directed by BARTLETT SHER. Kazan’s term “immaculate delicacy” could just as easily be applied to O’Hara, who, in the many and varied shows in which I have seen her, seems incapable of a word or gesture that could be described as crude or cheap or actressy. This is a remarkable achievement, since Broadway actors are known for falling back on tricks to draw attention or get the laugh or make a dramatic moment register with the audience in a “bigger” way; it’s one of the things that have helped many performers sustain a long and draining run. 

But O’Hara seems incapable of indulging in anything like that. Every moment of her performance is so perfectly judged that at several points during the evening — and I should say that I have never loved The King and I the way some people do — I fought back tears, simply because her beauty of expression seemed so utterly right. The charm and warmth with which she greets the children, responding to each one individually, in “Getting to Know You”; the way she lets “Shall I Tell You What I Think of You?” unfold without ever milking the fact that it’s a soliloquy; and the quietly sensual dash she lends to “Shall We Dance?” — at each moment, she never sells it. She just is. spacer

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Current Issue: August 2015 — VOL. 80, NO. 2