Talents of the World International Music 2018 Festival Review: Prima Donnas in Concert
Sopranos Make for Sensational Opening NightBy Logan Martell
On Dec. 21, 2018, Talents of the World took to Carnegie Hall for the company’s first International Festival. This opening night of performances came as a tribute to legendary soprano Maria Callas, titled “Prima Donnas in Concert.” True to its name, the evening’s program was comprised of some of the most grippingly gorgeous arias, duets, and trios performed by a breathtaking lineup of leading ladies.
With such an emphasis on the soprano and mezzo-soprano voice, the first selection, “Regnava nel Silencio,” from Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor,” made for a captivating start to the concert; Ruslana Koval’s interpretation carried a sublime elegance. While her expression was distant as she saw Lucia’s vision unfold, her voice was present and deftly balanced, neither too loud or too soft; this made for a beautiful disconnection that was fitting of the role. In the earlier measures, there was an instance where accompanist Alexandra Naumenko seemed to purposefully drop two beats; the nearly-constant haunt of the accompaniment made this stand out and gave the impression of Lucia’s vision flickering briefly.
Following this was “Sola, Perduta, Abbandonata,” from Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut.” Naumenko began the accompaniment with no singer present and the door left open. Soprano Tamar Iveri made her entrance awash in the dramatic weight of Manon. This weight dyed the colors of Iveri’s voice with a frantic magnetism, and her emotional breakdown was as believable as it was sharply executed. The aria displayed well Iveri’s vocal delicacy and power, and she ended her first aria of the night by pulling all of her emotions inwards, along with her breath, as the accompaniment rumbled to a close.
After the lovely intrigue of “Sull’Aria,” a move towards vivaciousness came when Olga Lisovskaya took to the stage to sing “Je Veux Vivre,” from Gounod’s “Romeo et Juliette.” The accompaniment kicked into the bouncing waltz after Lisovskaya delivered the opening run of coloratura with a resolute gladness. Swaying with the rhythm, she waltzed her way to the aria’s passionate heights with a series of upward melismas. As she sustained the sounds of the closing phrases, the rhythm of the accompaniment briefly slowed, like the heartbeat of someone finally catching their breath, until Lisovskaya capped off the aria with a triumphant vocal climax as Naumenko hammered out the final chords.
The first duet of the evening came with Tamar Iveri and Arsen Soghomonyan singing “Gia Nella Notte Densa,” from Verdi’s “Otello.” Being the former leading baritone at Moscow’s Stanislavsky Theatre, the rugged texture of Soghomonyan’s tenor soon made itself apparent. This quality was further highlighted by t he heightened emotion he seamlessly donned. When Iveri began her sweetly reassuring phrases, they revealed a tender chemistry, complete with hand-kissing, as the accompaniment played a delicate run of open chords. This was also seen towards the end by the quiet desperation heard in his request for “un baccio,” as if for healing from his emotional turmoil. The pleadingly-high finish that Soghomonyan gave, while not very elegant, was deeply poignant.
One of the evening’s highlights was the famous Queen of the Night aria “Der Holle Rache,” from Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.” On the darkest night of the year, Ruslana Koval proved her mastery of this aria after returning onstage in a jet-black gown. After the seething delivery of her opening measures, Koval hit each of the falling duplets set to the phrase “Sarastro Todesschmerzen,” with a palpable disdain. Koval’s interpretation of the Queen felt viciously prideful and oppressive, as if ready to crush anything below her atmospheric vocal height; this was shown in full by her handling of the extended staccato measures, each glimmering note of the stream shot forth like a comet falling from the sky. The third repetition of the word “hört” seemed to wash everything away with the power of Koval’s high B-flat
Singing Marguerite’s aria from Gounod’s “Faust” was Shaina Martinez, who recently won first place in Talents of the World’s International Voice Competition. Early on she demonstrated an imaginative capacity as she interacted with the box of jewelry she saw before her. With her voice and these unseen props, Martinez wove for herself and the audience a lovely tapestry of what life could be with her mysterious suitor. After this display of ornamentation, Martinez vaulted her way to a strong vocal climax as the number came to a close. This number was an energetic contrast to her gentler aria and duet earlier in the concert, where her demeanor could be described as shy; with Marguerite’s aria, she revealed a jewelry box of vocal and expressive colors.
A fun trio came in the form of Delibes’ “Les Filles de Cadix,” sang by Koval, Martinez, and Lisovskaya. Koval sang the opening lines with a relaxed loveliness that was directed towards her fellow sopranos, adding to it a small dance move which Lisovskaya playfully picked up. Koval demonstrated her stability by picking a flower from the row of pots set on the edge of the stage, singing all the while. She ended with an expression to her fellow divas as if saying “Your turn.” Lisovskaya leapt at her turn, treating her lines with a grace that emphasized fun rather than flirtatiousness. Martinez’s sections held a more tender feeling, but her voice was by no means lost when the three sang in unison.
The final number was shared between Iveri, Koval, and Lisovskaya, being “Quando M’en Vo,” from Puccini’s “La Boheme.” This flirtatious serenade was begun by Iveri, whose classically-gorgeous tones flowed through the opening stanza and deftly handled the leap set to the phrase “E la bellezza mia tutta ricerca in me.” Koval sang the middle section, seeking to set herself apart by lowering herself to a crouch to deliver her passionate lines. Lisovskaya began her section by using her shawl to shut out Koval, directing the eyes of the audience to her sweeping figure. The three prima donnas finally united for the closing phrases, vocally piling atop one another until the air of the Weill Recital Hall was utterly filled with their irresistible sound.
Talents of the World kicked off their International Music Festival with a display of aural fireworks, thanks to their impressive roster of prima donnas. Each of the artists in their own way have been touched by the legacy Maria Callas left behind, and her impact could be felt through the abundance of passion shown throughout the evening.