We have seen the photos, the videos, the horror of the invasion through our iPhones. And yet, amidst the destruction, the music continues, it endures – from a child singing “Let it Go” in a makeshift bomb shelter to a soldier playing the country’s national anthem on the violin for his brothers and sisters. sisters in arms; it is an unstoppable force to unite people, bring comfort and consolation in the darkest hours and spur action.
Spotlight Artists Management’s March 21, 2002 benefit concert in support of Ukraine achieved all three goals. The singers and instrumentalists represented a cross section of the world, featuring artists from Argentina to Russia to Ukraine; the music, although sometimes dark, was beautiful and well performed. Performers delivered the spine-chilling thrills that only live music can create, and donations came from ticket sales and the generosity of those who were unable to attend. Whether as a performer or as a member of the public, we were there to oppose the aggression and unite to help the people of Ukraine in their struggle for their existence as a democratic nation.
In an email to OperaWire, Spotlight Artists Management co-founder Natalie Burlutskaya wrote, “In addition to helping victims, it is also very important to educate the general public about important issues. We, the diverse team of artists who represent an array of nations around the world, have a powerful voice to speak, because music is the international language. Our program featured music from world classics, including Russian composers who taught us history and wisdom through their great compositions. Our benefit concert featured artists from the United States, Russia, Ukraine, China, Argentina, Croatia and Turkey. With our performance, we make it clear that we stand together against war. We stay together for peace, love, friendship and art. It is only together that we break down walls, fakes and lies to build bridges between peoples and cultures.
The program: two acts explore heroines, politics and loss
Spotlight Artists musical advisor, pianist and coach Alexander Chaplinskiy opened the concert with his arrangement of the Ukrainian anthem, and the audience rose in respect and support, physically standing alongside a nation ruthlessly beaten by a madman. Ukraine endures hell but remains proud, determined and brave beyond imagination. Though the towns are in ruins, the Ukrainian spirit is unwavering and its anthem resounds from a small church in Greenwich Village.
The program featured powerful characters, starting with three heroines who faced harsh political forces with determined resistance. These include Tosca, Joan of Arc and Magda from Menotti’s “The Consul”.
After an interlude with “Meditation”, one of four pieces for violin and piano by S. Bortkiewicz, Verdi’s “Un Ballo in Maschera” took center stage, along with three arias from the opera: the aria from Ulrica “Re dell’abisso affrettati”; Amelia’s Aria “Morrò, my prima in grazia”; and Renato’s Aria from the third act.
In summary, raw emotion was the name of the game in the first half of the concert.
The two themes of the Act concert moved from defiance to one of loss and the joys of life, beginning with three pieces that explored a different kind of politics; those between men and women.
Marguerite’s aria “Elles se hid” in Gounod’s “Faust”, Aleko’s aria in Rachmaninoff’s “Aleko” and “Love come and help my weakness” in Saint-Saëns’ “Samson et Delilah” highlighted the complexities and fragility of relationships, which, at least in these selections, has led to serious losses. Marguerite becomes an outcast after Faust impregnates her; Aleko despairs of his wife’s infidelity and Delilah betrays Samson. It was all heavy material.
But then, in the middle of act two, the clouds lifted. Reflection, humor, hope, beauty and peace flowed, leaving behind the restlessness. Schubert composed “Der Lindenbaum” from “Die Winterreise” as a meditation. The famous African-American spiritual, “Deep River”, expanded on the same subject, while “Non so più cosa son” from “Le nozze di Figaro” injected a dose of humor. “Somewhere”, from “West Side Story”, explored hope, and Ennio Blacks and Cesare Andrea Bixio’s song “Parlami d’amore, Mariu”, celebrated the beauty of Mary, Bixio’s wife. The opera’s most serene number, ‘Barcarolle’, from Offenbach’s ‘Contes d’Hoffmann’, brought the whole thing to a quiet conclusion.
Although officially split into two parts, the concert also had what I consider to be an epilogue; the one who celebrated Ukraine. Husband and wife collaborators, pianist Yuliya Basis and violinist Andy Didorenko performed his composition, “Reminiscence”, a piece dedicated to his hometown, Dnipro, Ukraine, and mezzo-soprano Galina Ivannikova presented the final vocal performance, a Ukrainian folk song, “Black eyebrows.
How did it all end? With a rockstar Russian pianist, playing the moving musical portrait of a Russian composer from La Grande Porte de kyiv. Alexander Chaplinskiy’s fingers were the vehicles through which his heart, energy and soul existed in Mussorgsky’s notes. I want to believe that his proud melody, played so powerfully, crossed the ocean and reached the ears of a very proud people.
The voice artists
Note: Artist comments are listed in order of first appearance.
The marvelous sound of the human instrument swelled the small church and a hint of reverberation allowed the music to hang. Each singer incorporated movement into their performance and brought to life the character whose tunes they sang, imbuing the songs with their spirit, like soprano Dilara Unsal, who, in an off-the-shoulder red dress adorned with a tiara of flowers, embodied the diva challenge to start the evening with “Vissi d’Arte”, filling the space with sparkling lines full of emotion.
Mezzo-soprano Galina Ivannikova gave full voice to Tchaikovsky’s heroine of “The Maid of Orleans”, Joan of Arc, evoking the character’s deep sadness at saying goodbye to her homeland. (It should be noted that Tchaikovsky orchestrated parts of the score while spending the spring and summer at various estates in Ukraine). Ivannikova made a second appearance at the end of the program, singing the Ukrainian folk song “Black Brows”, wearing a traditional Ukrainian dress.
Spotlight Artists co-founder soprano Zoya Gramagin paced the stage, trapped in a bureaucratic nightmare of silly paperwork as she sang wild notes of restlessness in “Papers,” from Menotti’s “The Consul.” Gramagin then took the stage to sing Amelia’s Aria from ‘Un Ballo’, laying down a sonic blanket as she proceeded to her lament; begging Renato to allow her to see her son one last time before he kills her. Gramagin’s third number was quite the opposite as she sang Offenbach’s serenade in Venice alongside soprano Sara Pearson, their voices swirling serenely, drifting like a gently rowed gondola.
Mezzo-soprano Ema Mitrovic laid down a sumptuous carpet of notes, performing Ulrica’s Aria from “Un Ballo”. The bass of the range fell into the contralto range where it expressed both authority and threat. Mitrovic returned in the second act of the program and performed “Love Come Help My Weakness”, from “Samson and Delilah”.
Rounding out the “Un Ballo” excerpts, American Verdi baritone Jonathan R. Green sang Renato’s aria, with a voice filled to the brim with molten rage followed by tenderness and warmth as he thought back to happier memories lost forever.
Bass-baritone Joseph Parrish has a mature, mellow tone that growls right at the bottom of its range. He showed complete confidence in the very exposed opening a capella bars. Parrish returned later in the program and performed “Deep River” with a voice as deep as the river he sang from.
Sara Pearson also sang solo, Gounod’s Spinning Wheel Aria from “Faust”. A frantic piano line evokes the spinning wheel and the frantic thoughts of Marguerite. Faust abandoned her after giving birth to her child. Pearson showed confidence in the upper registers of this piece, nailing the high B.
Representing the tenors, Xi Chen brought the art song into the mix with a nuanced performance of “Der Lindenbaum” where he ranged freely from dream to greatness. Xi’s second piece, “Parlami d’amore, Mariu”, was a celebration of co-composer Cesare Andrea Bixio’s wife. Xi showed off his clarified top notes and imbued his rendition with the lushness a song about beauty deserves.
Mezzo-soprano Eugenia Forteza charmed with her Cherubino, whipping Allegro Vivace, “Non so più cosa son”, her diction clear as a bell through such a rapid passage and she showed fearlessness in this number of delicate and high tessitura which exceeds the range. Forteza selected for their second song, “Somewhere”, from “West Side Story”. It is fitting that my review should end with this song. Yes, it’s a love song, a song full of hope because it looks to the future. Forteza’s performance had a yearning for peace and reconciliation, and flew to that place, to a place where we can find that “new way of life.”