This past Thursday night, the NYC Choral Society gave their yearly gala, once again at one of Manhattan’s finest social clubs, The Metropolitan Room, a former men’s only club on 5th Av. kitty-corner the Plaza Hotel.
Each year the NYCHORAL performs concerts of their own ranging from baroque, Christmas, and contemporary music and are regularly part of the famed Richard Tucker Gala, performing as the chorus for the night’s biggest opera stars.
After cocktail hour in the Great Hall (an impressive cavern of white marble that serves as a canvas for jet black wrought-iron, red carpet, and gold accents) the bells rung signaling the start of dinner in the West Lounge, an equally impressive gold-gilded ballroom with a ceiling reminiscent of the Sistine Chapel.
Traditionally, the gala features a performance. Past operatic artists have included Angela Meade and Ailyn Perez. Tonight was no different, with current Metropolitan Opera artists, Sean Panikkar and Amanda Woodbury on the program.
After awards for 50 year veteran Joanne W. Lawson and congratulations for the newly appointed Patrick Owens as Executive Director, Peter Yarrow, of Peter, Paul, and Mary, offered a vocal warm-up with an ad hoc chorus of Puff the Magic Dragon.
To begin the performance, Ms Woodbury gave a lively rendition of “Je veux vivre” from Gounod’s “Romeo et Juliette,” currently running at the Met and which Woodbury performed in January. Woodbury’s crystal clear tone and immaculate coloratura matched her youthful vibrancy of the young lover.
Next was a drastic change in mood as Panikkar (presently playing Tybalt in the Met’s “Romeo et Juliette”) took the stage to sing the famous Lensky aria ‘Kuda, kuda”, a perfect choice for Sean, as the depth of his voice really lends itself to Tchaikovsky’s dramatic chromaticism, filling the ballroom at the climax and slowly fading away, holding the entire room in suspense.
With the room still heavy after the Onegin aria, Woodbury next matched the stillness with “The Magic Flute’s” “Ach, ich fuhl’s”. In contrast to her first aria, she continued to show her emotional versatility and innate musicality through her perfect ebb and flow phrasing with crisp German diction.
The night wouldn’t be complete without a crowd-pleaser, offered up as “Dein ist mein ganzes Herz”, perhaps the only well-known song from Lehar’s “The Land of Smiles.” Panikkar displayed his charm this time around, smiling as he teased our ears with a his soft piano before a dramatic finish. A couple of pushed beats and a beautiful portamento kept this standard fresh and new.
For the finale, the singers paired up for “Léïla! Léïla!…Dieu puissant, le voilà!” a surprising choice from Bizet’s “The Pearl Fishers.” Using as much space as they had available to them, they moved about the room with their beautifully matched voices, embracing for a big finish but slowly pulling back for a tender ending.
The evening’s performance was a complete success, with all in attendance; singers, board members, and the like, all impressed and left craving more. All should hope to be lucky enough to hear more of Woodbury and Panikkar in the future.