One of the more delightful evenings I've spent recently was at a benefit concert on November 11 for the Boston Vocal Arts Studio at the Center Makor, in the Temple Bnai Moshe in Brighton. Last May, BVAS did a rare production of Tchaikovsky's Iolanta, and friends who went kept telling me I shudda been there. So when I was invited to attend BVAS's benefit Opera Gala, I wanted to check it out. I'm glad I did.
BRAVO! Sean Lair, Olga Lisovskaya, and Nouné Karapetian were among the singers at this year's Boston Vocal Arts Studio Gala in Brighton.
First of all, the singing was terrific — especially the Russians: soprano Dina Kuznetsova, who sings leading roles at England's legendary Glyndebourne Festival and who played the title role in Iolanta; Bolshoi Theater bass Mikhail Svetlov; and heroic countertenor Andrey Nemzer. There was also Met tenor Adam Klein, and some fine singers based in Boston, especially soprano Olga Lisovskaya (executive director of BVAS) and soprano Nouné Karapetian (who played the shrewish wife in Opera Boston's unforgettable production of Shostakovich's The Nose). They all reminded me of the gutsy (and well-credentialed) Eastern European singers the touring Teatro Lirico d'Europa brought to Boston on its annual tour (before ArtsEmerson shut the company out of the Cutler Majestic).
Kuznetsova has a plummy, round tone. She might have been saving herself in her famous arias from Rusalka (Dvorák's gorgeous hymn to the moon) and Tchaikovsky's Pique Dame, but she really opened up as Giulietta in Offenbach's lilting "Barcarolle" duet from Tales of Hoffmann, and she crowned the evening with her gleaming high notes in the grand finale from Iolanta — twice, since the cheering crowd wouldn't let the singers leave without an encore. Svetlov is one of those marvelous bears of a bass, with that characteristically hooded but visceral Russian resonance. He threw himself into everything he sang, from the hero's big aria from Rachmaninoff's Aleko (BVAS's next stage project) to his one solo line during the energetic chorus and orchestra performance of Borodin's Polovetsian Dances ("Stranger in Paradise") from Prince Igor.
Nemzer has the biggest, most powerful and focused — yet glowing — countertenor voice I've ever heard. He could change operatic casting by singing the male "trouser roles" that were written to be sung by women because most male singers couldn't project a forceful enough falsetto. He sang Ratmir's contralto aria from Glinka's Ruslan and Lyudmila and was Niklaus in the "Barcarolle" duet, blending magically with Kuznetsova. He ignited even more fireworks in Julius Caesar's coloratura war cry. He's the cover for superstar David Daniels as Caesar in the Met's upcoming production of Handel's Giulio Cesare. Should Daniels have to cancel for any reason (he was ill the last time I was supposed to hear him at the Met), audiences would be lucky to get Nemzer as his replacement.
Another hero of the evening was conductor Lidiya Yankovskaya, music director of Juventas New Music Ensemble and Harvard's Lowell House Opera (she's a singer and pianist as well). Her firm, exhilarating beat kept the surprisingly good 21-piece orchestra crisp and rhythmically alert, though there were a few expansive moments when I wished she had loosened her tight leash a bit.
There were also energetic contributions by BVAS's enthusiastic chorus and the Lucky Ten, a chorus of more than 10 impressively talented and uninhibited kids co-directed by Alexander Prokhorov — artistic director of BVAS and a lively, if woofy, bass-baritone — and choreographer Anna Kravets.
This gala concert attracted a near capacity crowd (maybe 700 people) of all ages, drawn mainly, it seemed, from the Russian émigré enclaves of Brighton, Allston, and Newton (announcements were in both Russian and English, as were most of the signs in the building). But more Bostonians need to know about this passionate and enterprising group. ^