Talents of the World 2019 Review: Christmas Ball
A Special Event Full of Wide-Ranging Music & TalentBy Logan Martell
On December 22, 2019, Talents of the World returned to Carnegie Hall for their second annual Christmas Ball. Featuring a program of opera, musical theatre, traditional songs, and holiday favorites, Sunday’s concert saw the company and guest artists delight the audience through irresistible renditions of beloved works.
Drinking Songs & More
Opening the concert was company president and baritone David Gvinianidze, singing “Tzangala’s Toast” from Georgian composer Paliashvili’s opera “Daisi.” Joined by Georgian dancers, this opening number saw powerful, welcoming tones from Gvinianidze as the dancers leapt and spun to make great use of the stage.
Next was company director and soprano Olga Lisovskaya, singing “O Luce di Quest’Anima” from Donizetti’s “Linda di Charmounix.” The lively opening saw a Lisovskaya use a number of deft, gentle leaps which gave way to a showcase of effervescent ornaments through the following sections.
Following this was baritone Gocha Abuladze, with “Fin ch’han dal vino” from Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.” His commanding timbre added shades of dark excitement as he outlined the words of revelry. For his significant vocal weight, Abuladze finely navigated the rapid, almost pattering phrases of this brief number.
Making for a more relaxed shift was soprano Maria Maksakova, singing “Song to the Moon” from Dvorak’s “Rusalka.” This evocative number saw Maksakova draw upon a wealth of emotions as she explored the water spirit’s overflowing heart. Her initial, demure bearing was contrasted by her mature, captivating tones. These feelings built with swelling intensity as Maksakova’s repetitions led into a gorgeous conclusion.
Next was pianist Victoria Ulanovskaya, with a stunning musical theatre medley comprised of songs such as “The Phantom of the Opera” from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical of the same name, “Memories” from “Cats,” “Sunrise, Sunset” and “If I Were a Rich Man” from Jerry Bock’s “Fiddler on the Roof, and “Do-Re-Mi” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The Sound of Music.” With a lush texture and driving rhythm, this arrangement powerfully flowed back and forth between its numbers with great energy and expressivity.
Following in this sparkling theme was soprano Lyudmila Fesenko, with “Zazdravnaya (A toast)” by Dunayevsky. Walking onstage with a filled glass, Fesenko displayed a number of rising roulades and vocal colors through her bright instrument, able to sustain these tones at a soaring height.
Returning to the stage, Abuladze’s second number was “Votre Toast,” from Bizet’s “Carmen.” He carried a bold charge through the stanzas that highlighted not only the thrill of the ring, but the strong, relishing cries of victory and love. His third number was “Let’s Drink,” also from Paliashvili’s “Daisi.” Here, Abuladzde’s rich vocality danced through the triple time passages with a wonderful passion.
Closing the first half of the program was the brindisi from Verdi’s “La Traviata.” Opened by Joel Ricci, he was joined by Gvinianidze, Maksakova, and Vetere before the remaining artists came onstage to dance with a partner through the bouncing waltz rhythm.
Joining Talents of the World that evening were a number of guest artists. First up among them, appearing courtesy of the Metropolitan Opera, was bass Zachary James; his first number was “If Ever I would Leave You,” from Lerner and Lowe’s “Camelot.” The tender sentiments of the accompaniment were matched with a light, ravishing affection from James, which saw many of phrases sustained with great sweetness. While these qualities were on display for most of the number, James ended with ample power as he fully seized the feelings of enduring love.
A fantastic showing came from soprano Maria Vetere, singing “O cieli Azzurri” from Verdi’s “Aida.” The fluid tumult of the accompaniment dropped for her lower, conflicted opening phrases. As the music returned, Vetere used an enchanting pianissimo to caress her following line open as she readied to delve into the emotional landscape of Aida. Though the ease of the accompaniment’s tempo made this number feel long in relation to previous selections, Vetere drew an abundance of meaning and beautiful vocal technique, earning the huge applause which followed.
Next was tenor Joel Ricci, with “Che Gelida Manina” from Puccini’s “La Boheme.” His rendition was, fittingly, filled with remarkable vocal warmth, able to crest into a gentle but captivating spinto quality. As his phrases became more personal, so too did his passion color them as he built to a highly touching close.
Continuing in this romantic atmosphere, Ricci was joined by Vetere for the duet “O Soave Fanciulla” from “La Boheme.” Singing just a few steps behind her, Ricci’s appealing crescendo wonderfully set up Vetere’s sonorous A-natural cry which began their united phrases. Their exchanges were dramatically charged and highly intimate; as Vetere took Ricci’s arm, their departing harmonies rang with a gorgeous strength as they slowly walked offstage together.
Also making a special appearance this evening was renowned Verdi soprano Aprile Millo. Her first selection was “Ne poy krasavitsa, pri mne” from Rachmaninoff’s “6 Romances, Op. 4” which she sang in tribute to Dmitri Hvorostovsky. Accompanied by Vera Danchenko-Stern, Millo’s phrases rang with a somber beauty which captured the painful nostalgia of Pushkin’s text.
In the second half of the program, Millo also sang Rachmaninoff’s “Spring Waters” from “12 Romances, Op. 14.” Her phrases bloomed into a rich soprano quality as the lightly-hammering chords gave way to a slower, more reflective feeling from Millo. She built her way to a lovely sustained mezzo-piano while the accompaniment was brought to a pristine close.
Opening the second half of the concert was Gvinianidze, singing “Chrysanthemums” by Russian songwriter Nikolai Kharito. Joined by violinist Sofia Khurtsilava, their opening carried a fine contrast between her more expressive lines and his hushed, rich phrases. After flowing to a warmer quality and building to a captivating energy, this affectionate gravity saw Gvinianidze deliver a breathtakingly soft conclusion.
Later in the program was Lara’s popular song “Granada,” sung by soprano Anni Kolkhida. Accompanied by Ulanovskaya, the opening carried a proud, driving blend of colors which Kolkhida took up with rising intensity., Kolkhida navigated the imagery of the text with a sonorous energy, though the softness of her consonants lessened the full impact of the Spanish phrases. Despite this, her joyous, soaring conclusion was a thing of great beauty.
Competition Winners & Holiday Favorites
This concert also saw appearances from three winners of Talents of the World’s International Voice Competition. First up was Bryan Murray, singing “Largo Al Factotum” from Rossini’s “Il Barbiere di Siviglia.” The spirited accompaniment was joined by Murray’s mezzo-forte opening, quickly leading to rapid phrases and energetic leaps which he handled expertly.
Next of the winners was soprano Sooyeon Kang, singing “Meine Lippen sie kussen so heiss” from Lehar’s “Giuditta.” Taking up the rhythm of the accompaniment, Kang delivered this number with a charming flair, with a number of changing vocal techniques being handled with a poise that made for a lovely transition to phrases of relaxed, lyrical passion. Carrying these feelings as the music returned to its opening material, Kang finished this number with beautiful strength.
Also among the winners was Alina Tamborini, who sang “Adele’s Audition Aria” from Johann Strauss’ “Die Fledermaus.” The duple meter was brightened by her bubbly colors as Tamborini made wonderful use of trills and her soaring vocality as she easily played to the audience with a sunny disposition. Both Tamborini and Kang had joined Lisovskaya for an exuberant rendition of “I Could Have Danced All Night” from Lerner and Lowe’s “My Fair Lady.” Here, the three sopranos traded phrases before they each found themselves a partner to dance with through the instrumental sections.
Closing the concert was a selection of Christmas songs, starting with a piano medley from Ulanovskaya and Serebriannikov. Initially comprised of Tchaikovsky pieces such as “The Nutcracker” and “Waltz of the Flowers,” this arrangement gave way to numbers such as “Let it Snow” and “Jingle All the Way.”
Following this was “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” sung by Zachary James. Here James’ tender vocal qualities took on a fine air of nostalgia, especially heard in the way he delicately sighed phrases to a close. James also sang Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas,” nicely balancing the firm and gentle aspects to give a wonderful rendition of this beloved song.
Next was Tabourot’s “Ding Dong Merrily on High,” sung by the evening’s sopranos. After Lisovskaya opened with sweet, lively phrases, she was joined by Fesenko, Kang, and Tamborini whose lines built towards sonorous, rejoicing repetitions of “Gloria!”
One powerful group number was Leontovych’s “Shchedryk/Carol of the Bells,” opened by Fesenko with the original Ukrainian text strongly expressed through her rising phrases as she was rejoined by the sopranos, as well as James and Murray. The softening repetitions of their mixed texture was wonderfully contrasted by the strong chords, leading to a hushed, poignant close.
After this was Bryan Murray, singing Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride.” With a warm, embracing energy Murray’s phrases nicely carried the feelings of holiday excitement.
Bringing the concert to a strong ending was a Christmas medley performed by all the artists. Opening with Tamborini singing “O Holy Night,” she was joined by Lisovskaya and Muray, before everyone followed. The piece transitioned into “Silver Bells,” led by Ricci who used charming ornamentation, before going on to “Silent Night,” with Abuladze’s soft and rich vocality taking the forefront as he began his phrases in Georgian. The rising figures from the accompaniment powerfully announced the final song “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”
Throughout the night, Talents of the World drew a tremendous reception from the audience, thanks to the splendid musical and dramatic capabilities of their artists and guests. Sunday’s concert made for a stunning finish to the company’s Christmas Festival and a season of great performances.