The Belmont Mansion Grand Ball Great Performances

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Russell P. Allen - National Endowment for the Arts and OPERA America consultant, general manager of Atlanta Opera, Virginia Opera, and numerous symphony orchestras, reviews Opera Music Theater International's Belmont Mansion Grand Ball Great Performances under the direction of James K. McCully.

Opera Music Theater International, under the direction of James K. McCully, presented the Young Artists Concert with the Opera Music Theater Ensemble as part of the Grand Ball at Belmont Mansion in Washington D.C. benefiting Capital Children's Charities.

The Concert occurred at the magnificent Belmont Mansion, former home of New York Congressman Perry Belmont, with accompanist JoAnn Kulesza under the direction of James K. McCully.

Underwriters for the performances were the Free and Accepted Masons; Washington City, District of Columbia. The piano used for the performance was a gold leaf 1911 Steinway Model B grand piano (one of two in the world.)

The performance at Belmont Mansion included four prominent young singers showcasing a selection of bravura operatic masterworks. The performances took place in two acts at two different times during a formal evening of cocktails, fine cuisine, chamber music, silent auction and dancing. The evening's goal was to reflect a dazzling evening of early 20th Century high society entertainment in this turn of the century French inspired mansion.

The event clearly was a significant success and offered a magnificent evening. All four singers for The Grand Ball performances have excellent voices, were well trained, and exhibited clearly defined technique and ability. The event was well attended. Given the nature of the event, there were times when it took the audience some time to quiet down for the performers. The performances were clearly appreciated, however, and the audience showed its interest in the performances by rousing ovations after each selection.

The performances took place on the same level as the audience, which made sight lines difficult. Also, the ballroom's 32' high ceilings did not represent the best acoustics. However, all artists could be heard and the performances themselves were professionally executed and enjoyable.

Act One of the vocal performance began with Hyun-Min Lee, soprano. She gave a heartfelt performance of "Je dis que rien ne m'epouvante" from CARMEN by Georges Bizet. Ms. Lee gave an excellent performance clearly exhibiting her wide range, beautiful tone, and well-shaped phrasing. As demonstrated this evening, Ms. Lee clearly had Micaela's character incorporated into her performance with her lyrical and plaintive rendition. She showed well-defined emotion in a performance of vocal expertise. Ms. Lee gave a phenomenal close to this touching aria.

The next offering was by Arturo Chacon, baritone. His first offering was "Concert Aria" by Gioachino Rossini. His presentation was strong and assertive and this aria showed clearly his excellent technique. He has a pleasing vocal quality that came across well with a performance highlighted by his clear diction. It was clear that he had complete mastery of this aria.

Mr. Chacon's performance was followed by another selection from Ms. Lee. Ms. Lee returned with an amusing rendition of "The Doll Song" ("Les oiseaux dans la charmille") from THE TALES OF HOFFMAN by Jacques Offenbach. Ms. Lee's acting out the role was comic and well executed. Her excellent vocal technique made her performance memorable. She had the audience's rapt attention with this selection and played them beautifully. Her intonation was impeccable and diction excellent. A definite highlight of the evening.

Mr. Chacon returned for the fourth selection of Act One. He performed "O du mein holder Abendstern" from TANNHAUSER by Richard Wagner. His performance was good and he again exhibited vocal strength. He gave a solid rendition but appeared somewhat less forthcoming in this selection than in his first. The audience was not quite as attentive here, which might have impacted his performance. Also, this selection required more subtlety in interpretation, which simply could not easily come across in this massive ballroom performance space.

For the final number of Act One, Ms. Lee and Mr. Chacon came back together for "Bei Mannern, welch Liebe fuhlen" from THE MAGIC FLUTE by W. A. Mozart. This performance was very good and both singers were at top form. The balance between the two was very good, the blend of their voices was excellent, and each sang melodiously with excellent diction. Both acted the parts of Pamina and Papageno very well and clearly related to each other in song and gesture. The audience was again right with the performance and clearly enjoyed it.

Act Two featured the other two singers showcased this evening. The first was tenor James Baker and the second was soprano Connie Coffelt. Each performed major arias from TURANDOT by Giacomo Puccini and then concluded the evening with a duet from ANDREA CHENIER by Umberto Giordano. Both singers clearly were knowledgeable of their respective roles and well defined their characters through clear diction and purposeful phrasing.

Mr. Baker began Act Two with Puccini's "Non piangere, Liu", his TURANDOT selection. Mr. Baker ably expressed Calaf's angst in his rendition of this aria as he communicates to Liu. Mr. Baker provided some powerful moments. His voice was somewhat tight at times, but this did not detract from his ability to convey the meaning of and depth of feeling in the aria.

Ms. Coffelt brought to the evening an excellent performance of "In questa Reggia", Turandot's signature aria from Puccini's opera of the same name. Her phrasing was impeccable and diction excellent. Her vocal quality was very sound throughout and showed the strength and power of both the aria and Ms. Coffelt's voice. She clearly conveyed Turandot's emotional involvement with her ancestor's calamity. Her performance was filled with the drama of the aria. Mr. Baker joined Ms. Coffelt at the end with Calaf's reaffirmation of life. Their blend was good, and both succeeded in well executing their high ranges for the dramatic close of this aria.

The final selection of Act Two was performed by both Ms. Coffelt and Mr. Baker and was "Vincino a te s'acqueta" from Giordano's ANDREA CHENIER. Both sang well and made good efforts at acting the roles of Maddalena and Chenier. Diction was a little more difficult to hear in this duet in part because of ambient noise. The tenor occasionally sounded fatigued. The aria's poignancy was well realized and this provided the evening with a dramatic conclusion.

Throughout the evening, the room provided the singers with challenges. Overall, the performances were very well executed and cut through the challenges of the room. Certainly the talent represented was excellent and the evening was clearly a major success.

Opera Music Theater International (OMTI), has showcased talented young artists in concert at The White House, The National Theatre, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Arts Club of Washington, Goethe Institute, Arlington National Cemetery and 43rd National Opera Association Convention in Washington D.C.

Opera Music Theater International, a nonprofit arts organization, was established on the 13th of August in 1991.

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James K. McCully