As far as artistic events go, the Verdi Square Festival of the Arts in New York may not be on your radar screen. However, if you are in the know, this Festival is an enormous event for the talent and neighbourhood spirit it brings to the upper west side of the city.
I was invited to the opera segment of the Festival with front row reserved seats on a beautiful Sunday afternoon at 5:00pm. Students from the Manhattan School of Music are lined up for a one hour concert in Verdi Square Park, at West 72nd and Broadway.
Some 500 people and passersby are drawn in by the operatic performance.
Yes, there are wailing sirens and the rumbling subway underneath, but this is the true urban New York facing the performers, who are not used to decreasing temperatures and having to perform in front of microphones.
This is opera in the raw, and the performers, uncertain with these conditions, pull it off flawlessly. Yes, in a public park and subway stop.
And beautiful it was.
Alaysha Fox (soprano), Lisa Barone (mezza-soprano), Carlton Moe (tenor), and Liang Zhao (baritone) delivered superbly. This was no amateur production, but a highly polished professional showing.
The artists are young professionals just starting out but, based on their abilities, their destination is almost taken for granted. The operatic show delivered consisted of a one hour performance of both well known and not so well known numbers.
In the opening number from Verdi’s La Traviata, Ms Fox delivered a spine tingling Libliamo. When you get shivers done the spine at an opera, you must respect whomever delivers them.
Mr Moe showed his incredible range of voice in a flawless and moving performance of Questo o Quella from Rigoletto. A voice of enormous power was rewarded by a tumultuous crowd response.
Mr Zhao delivered a visually and painfully effective Peita, rispetto, amore from Macbeth. His voice and facial expressions delivered a feeling of the tragedy of the protagonist.
From Alceste’s Divinistés du Styx, Ms Fox again displayed the incontestable range of her voice powered by a hidden determination to deliver the perfect performance.
Despite the screech of the ambulance on Amsterdam the duo of Moe and Zhao managed a delightful playoff against each other performing Omimi tu non torni from Puccini’s La Boheme.
In Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess I was expecting a low key jazz rendition, but instead received a true to the playwright’s operatic Summertime. Not unpleasant, but taking a bit of time to adapt oneself to. Rather interesting to hear from Ms Fox that her operatic version is more true to the original version after being so accustomed to the jazz standard.
Ms Fox advised us we have forgotten the true Gershwin version.
Ms Barone delivered a classic version of Habanera from Bizet’s Carmen, which received a thunderous applause from the audience.
The obvious star power of Mr Moe’s voice delivered a clear, powerful, and dramatic version of Dein ist mein ganzes Herz from Lehar’s Das Land des Lächens.
Both from Verdi’s Rigoletto, Mr Zhao delivered an angry and patrimonial, but powerful, performance of Si Vendetta while Ms Fox’s voice soared the heavenly heights.
All performers provided a rousing if not overwhelming version of In di, se ben rammetomi. This critic and the audience were swept away by the production.
A special reception for patrons of the Festival was graciously hosted in the offices of First Republic Bank at 76th and Broadway. First Republic Bank is a private bank and the largest wealth management bank in the United States.
First Republic had also recently hosted poetry readings and an art exhibit under the auspices of the Festival.
The reception afforded me the opportunity to briefly chat with two of the performers.
Mr Moe noted that, due to the increased screening/streaming of operatic performances from the Metropolitan Opera in New York, there was somewhat of an HD Ready factor creeping into American opera. Soon may be gone the days of overflowing diva and hefty baritones.
Is American opera heading the way of Hollywood’s good looks? Unlike Europe, this HD Ready phenomena seems to be a strong force on the US operatic scene. Lose weight and get a personal trainer instead of your voice trainer.
Sounds easy, but an opera star uses all sorts of muscles during a performance. Start tinkering with those muscles may place one’s voice in jeopardy.
Mr Moe stressed the importance of having a life outside of the opera and enjoys spending time with his girlfriend and some time away from singing. This is his way of dealing with stress, although he notes it is not uncommon for opera singers to talk about their therapists.
Ms Fox, surprisingly, told me that the stress in opera is more in preparing for the show than actually giving it. Through mental effort, she tries to become the character she is portraying. She hopes that there is something in her character which permits her to relate and identify with the role she is taking on.