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In Review > Concerts and Recitals

Lisette Oropesa, Brian Mulligan & Ken Noda

NEW YORK CITY
George London Foundation for Singers | Morgan Library's Gilder Lehman Hall
4/1/12

The dual recitals — several per season — that are regularly presented by the George London Foundation for Singers serve a great many purposes, not the least of which is training young opera singers to scale down their presentation for more intimate spaces. This was on very clear display the afternoon of April 1 in the Gilder Lehman Hall of the Morgan Library, where Lisette Oropesa and Brian Mulligan offered a program of songs and arias. 

Both are gifted young artists with talent and presence to burn. But they are clearly more accustomed to the great open spaces of the Met, Los Angeles Opera and Lyric Opera of Chicago than to a 264-seat recital hall. It's thrilling, at first, to hear sizable voices in such intimate confines. That wears off soon, however, as the eardrums begin to ache and the head to pound in reaction to a rather relentless sonic blast. Oropesa and Mulligan, in their still-youthful careers, have shown that they have much to offer operagoers. Undoubtedly, they will take away from this concert the knowledge that less is more in a recital hall of this size.

Mulligan has a fine-grained, plush baritone with a strong lower range. In his opening selections, three songs by Liszt, his booming, blackened sound was particularly well suited to "Die Vätergruft" (Tomb of the Forefathers), with its chillingly dark evocation of a cemetery vault and the bodies of heroes that lie within. Mulligan followed this with a hearfelt "Es muss ein Wunderbares sein" (It Must Be a Wonderful Thing) and a very dramatic "Die Lorelei," in which his crisp diction painted a vivid word-picture of the crashing waves under the Lorelei's rock. Here, as in most of his other material during the concert, he showed a tendency to breathe too loudly and heavily, particularly during the solo-piano passages by seasoned accompanist Ken Noda.

Lisette Oropesa sang four songs in succession by Georges Bizet. Not often heard in contemporary recitals, they were a pleasure to encounter here, despite Oropesa's miscalculated volume. She has a real feeling for the French language and style; in fact, she did her own English translations of these and her subsequent Italian selections for the program leaflet. A light lyric soprano with a full arsenal of bel canto effects at her disposal, she wields a distinctive, bell-like timbre that is instantly appealing. During the springtime ode "Chanson d'Avril," her voice rippled like a fresh stream. She emphasized the nineteenth-century orientalisme of "Adieux de l'hôtesse arabe" with judicious use of her surprisingly strong lower register, and she capped the song with a seductive melisma followed by a long, clearly-defined trill. "Chanson d'amour" and "Ouvre ton coeur" also benefited from her clean diction and rhythmic precision.

Mulligan closed the first half of the concert with a deeply felt "Pietà, rispetto, amore," from Verdi's Macbeth, but he undercut the overall effect by dispatching a cute little "thank you" hand-wave to the audience following the applause. Oropesa then offered Amina's climactic sleepwalking scene and "Ah! Non giunge" finale, from La Sonnambula, brimming with beautifully-shaped phrasing and a fine command of breath control. In this and her next aria, "Al destin che la minaccia," from Mozart's Mitridate, she used precise, rapid-fire fioriture to thrilling effect, showing signs of strain only on a couple of very high notes.

From Dominick Argento's cycle The Andrée Expedition, Mulligan chose four out of thirteen songs — those based on the letters that explorer Nils Strindberg wrote to his wife during that ill-fated 1897 polar voyage. The songs depict a harrowing descent from the exhilaration of departure through the bleakness and terror of Strindberg's realization that he may never return. The songs made a fine dramatic showcase for Mulligan, rising as they did to a heartbreaking climax — a mighty howl of fear and despair. 

The piano was moved far upstage to allow room for the concert's final selection — a semi-staged, fully blocked version of the Enrico–Lucia confrontation scene from Lucia di Lammermoor, complete with the prop of the forged letter. It showed these two artists in their element as stage creatures and made one long for the chance to see them together in a full production of the opera. 

As an encore, Oropesa sang Falla's brief, sweet "El Paño Moruno," and Mulligan offered Frank E. Tours's "Mother o' Mine," with its verse by Kipling, as a tribute to George London's widow, Nora. In his introduction, he pointed out that this was a favorite encore number of Leonard Warren and John Charles Thomas. In an age when many American singers Mulligan's age barely know or care about who preceded them on the world's stages, this came as an encouraging surprise. spacer 

ERIC MYERS

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