"a celebration of feminine pride and empowerment ... inspiring ... captivating"
Please see the full review below or at Oberon's Grove.
Far and Near
June 25, 2018 - Philip Gardner of Oberon's Grove
Monday June 25th, 2018 - The Cantanti Project, an enterprising collective of young singers headed by Artistic Director Joyce Yin, brought a truly enjoyable program of live music to Northern Manhattan this evening. In the fantastical lobby of the United Palace of Cultural Arts at 4140 Broadway, eight singers and an expert pianist performed operatic numbers, songs - both classical and contemporary - and tunes from the Broadway stages. That all the vocalists were women transformed the evening into a celebration of feminine pride and empowerment; when they joined for the finale - Go The Distance from Alan Menken's HERCULES - they were really inspiring.
The United Palace originally opened as the Loew's 175th Street Theatre in 1930; it was an ornate vaudeville house and movie theatre. In 1969, when many of the city’s grand movie theaters were slated for demolition, the United Palace of Spiritual Arts (formerly known as United Christian Evangelistic Association) took over the property.
I'd never been to this Palace before, but the foyer struck me an incredible ready-made setting for opera; the MAGIC FLUTE came immediately to mind, and dozens of operas from the Baroque era would look right at home there. For tonight, a grand piano had been rolled out and comfortable seating arranged in the space so that the performance seemed intimate even in such a grandiose setting. The acoustics are superb for singing: no mikes needed, thank you very much.
William Lewis accompanied the singers throughout the program; his playing was both supportive of the voices and very attractive in its own right.
Mr. Lewis opened the evening with the rhapsodic introduction to the Canzone di Doretta from Puccini's LA RONDINE; this familiar aria was then taken up by soprano Rebecca Richardson, her big-lyric voice sounding vibrantly in the space. Joyce Yin's If I Loved You from CAROUSEL profited well through her clear diction, pretty tone, and sincere delivery. Jane Hoffman and Brittany Fowler made a nice vocal blend in the enchanting Flower Duet from LAKME by Léo Delibes; with Mr. Lewis's lovely support, they created a charming, sisterly atmosphere.
The distinctive voice of Tara Gruszkiewicz transformed the Aaron Copland arrangement of At The River into an almost operatic experience; her fine diction and magisterial delivery made for a winning performance. Another intriguing voice and personality, that of Aumna Iqbal, made her first appearance of the evening with Robert Schumann's Wanderung to which she brought a dramatic lilt. Ms. Iqbal, who made such a great impression as Orfeo the the Cantanti Project's production of Caccini's EURIDICE earlier this year, had her arm in a sling this evening...but it didn't hamper her singing.
Rebecca Richardson returned for Joaquin Rodrigo's De Ronda - an all-too-short song. Mary Kathryn Monday's Seguidilla from CARMEN was characterful, wherein she played with the dynamics to make an enticing effect. Lee Hoiby's The Serpent has a wonderful rhythmic start; Ms. Yin sang the song with plenty of zest, moving thru the vocalise passages to a big, sustained high note at the end.
With the all-female line-up of singers tonight, it was only fitting that songs by female composers should be featured. The first of these was Consuelo Velázquez's Besame Mucho, the voices of Tara Gruszkiewicz and Mary Kathryn Monday filling the seductive melody with nicely contrasting timbres and skillfully-managed vibratos. Jane Hoffman sang Eva dell'Acqua's lovely Villanelle with its coloratura vocalise passages and showy cadenzas. We don't hear Amy Beach's music often enough these days; Ms. Hoffman offered Beach's beautiful I Send My Heart To Thee which reaches a passionate climax before subsiding to a pensive ending. Brittany Fowler chose Fanny Mendelssohn's Nachtwanderer which seems like a quietly rapturous waltz into which a dramatic mid-section is introduced.
Mr. Lewis's arrangement of the traditional song Shenandoah suited Brittany Fowler well, showing off her depth of tone and commitment. The Evening Prayer from HANSEL & GRETEL benefited from an appealing blend of voices: the sweetly lyrical Angela Dixon and the steadfast, poetic Aumna Iqbal. Ms. Monday then gave an expansive and pleasing rendering of Build My House from Bernstein's PETER PAN.
To Dvořák's poignant Als die alte Mutter, Ms. Gruszkiewicz brought an Olde World duskiness of timbre that was quite haunting. In Home, from Alan Menken's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, Ms. Iqbal's dramatic, songful performance marked her out as a singer with something to say.
Mr. Lewis's arrangement of Harold Arlen's Somewhere Over the Rainbow is one of the best versions of that classic song I have ever heard; Ms. Richardson and Ms. Yin meshed their voices to captivating effect, finishing with a rising, harmonized passage that recalls the last phrase of Sophie and Octavian's final duet in DER ROSENKAVALIER.
Then came the ensemble-finale, Go the Distance, with the women soloing and duetting along the way to a concerted finish. I admit that seeing the 'musical theatre' pieces listed on the program gave me pause, but they ended up being some of the highlights of the evening.