By Edward Kliszus
The Riverside Opera Ensemble presented The American Composers Concert: Matthews and Fornarola tonight. It was staged at New York’s Merkin Hall at the Kaufman Music Center. This is a delightful performance space, the apposite, intimate environment for a recital or chamber music venue.
World premieres are marvelous, memorable events chronicling the addition of new works to the extant literature. And better yet, both composers were in attendance to present their works to the musical world.
Composer and pianist extraordinaire Nathan R. Matthews welcomed the audience and introduced tonight’s musical themes. Composer Drew Fornarola described both his and Matthews’ works in detail, lending insights into the composers’ afflatus and thoughts.
The concert began with selections by Drew Fornarola, including his Most Wanted and Disloyal Daughter from Tiananmen (2020), featuring vocalists Gen Parton-Shin and Grace Choi. The world premiere of his Song from an Untitled Austrian Musical Project (2022), featuring vocalist Quentin Bruno, followed. All of My Friends and Nothing At All from his 2021 work, Dorian featured Vocalists Michael Jayne Walker, Kerri George, Gen Parton-Shin, off-Broadway actor Grace Choi, and Quentin Bruno.
Tonight’s first world premiere by Nathan R. Matthews is entitled The Ruminations and Reflections of an Armchair Philosopher (2022), set to poems by Peter Haslett Kelly. Songs included It Always Sucks to be Someone/Doubt with vocalists Christiane Noll and Jamie LaVerdiere, Safer performed by LaVerdiere, two works Life and Right performed by Noll, and Wild Monkeys performed by Noll and LaVerdiere.
The program’s second half featured Matthews’ world premiere of The Count of Monte Cristo (2007, 2020). This featured various vocal luminaries, including Edward Parks, Blythe Gaissert, Christiane Noll, Thomas J. Capobianco, and Detra A. Davis.
We were treated to a variety of vocal and musical styles. Before intermission, artists performed primarily in a musical theater style, using what some call a Broadway belt, but technically speaking, it involves extending their chest voice into their upper registers. Singers have developed this technique to create dramatic moments of incredible beauty and pathos popularized on the Broadway stage and as exemplified by pop and jazz singers. By contrast, some of tonight’s artists also displayed their remarkable versatility by performing operatically, extending the head voice into their lower registers, and imperceptible transitions from chest to head voice as they ascend through their tessitura.
The broad selection of musical works this evening provided many marvelous musical moments; artistry, vocal command, drama, and sheer choric beauty abounded. Of particular regard was Christiane Moll’s soubrette coloratura performance of Madame Villefort Poison Aria, 11-2, from Matthews’ The Count of Monte Cristo. She conquered the challenges of this virtuosic selection with aplomb, charm, and vivid intensity, entering the dramatic musical world of the likes of Richard Strauss’ Zerbinetti aria from Ariadne auf Naxos.
Pianist/composer Nathan Matthews masterfully accompanied the entire concert featuring this coterie of artists. The works he performed explored tonality with generous use of whole-tone scales, full range of the piano, frequent chromatic shifts, and dissonances supporting textual import. It was overall a treat to the ears and heart.
One cannot overemphasize the value and importance of new musical works to the extant repertoire. With the appearance and participation of living composers, multiple world premieres, and excellent soloists, tonight was an exciting artistic venue benefiting artists and audiences alike. Be sure to watch for future performances by the Riverside Opera Company.
Runtime: 2 hours with intermission.
Merkin Hall at Kaufman Music Center (kaufmanmusiccenter.org).
7:30 PM, Monday, May 16, 2022
129 West 67th Street, New York, New York
Tickets are available at kaufmanmusiccenter.org or (212) 501-3330. Students and seniors get discounted tickets at the box office. To purchase tickets, please visit the link below: