Posted by: operatheaterink | June 7, 2011

Review: UCLA Opera Gala, Royce Hall, June 7, 2011

An Evening of Passion!

Review: UCLA Opera Gala, Royce Hall, June 7, 2011

SEEN JUNE 4, 2011

By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

I graduated from the UCLA theater department so I guess that I am partial to the campus. Yet I really do not believe that I am exaggerating when I say that the pool of talent within the faculty and student ranks has ballooned into something quite extraordinary. Case in point: the UCLA Opera Gala in Royce Hall on June 4.

When I attended UCLA many years ago, Royce Hall looked traditional with carpeting and drapes. Royce Hall has grown up acoustically. Hardwood floors have replaced the carpeting so that when you place a chorus, soloists and an orchestra onstage, the sound is nothing short of phenomenal.

Before I commend the guest artists and students, however, I want to compliment the faculty members who contributed so regally to this evening’s success. They were responsible for recognizing the talent and for having the expertise to put the spectacle together. I’ve been so fortunate to have met so many of these devoted professors and artists who selflessly give much more of themselves than is warranted. They virtually live, eat and breathe music, and they have made the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music a “community.” I must include choral conductor Donald Neuen; professor of voice, baritone Vladimir Chernov; pianist Mona Lands; UCLA Philharmonia music director and conductor Neal Stulberg; Opera UCLA director Peter Kazaras; assistant conductor Amber Kim; and others less directly involved with the Opera Gala, including voice professor Michael Dean, the incoming Chair of the music department; professor of voice Juliana Gondek (who successfully showcased her diverse talents in a program of upbeat Latin repertoire a week before the gala); musical directors and collaborative pianists Rakefet Hak and Judith Hansen; composer-professor Ian Krouse; current Department of Music Chair Roger Bourland; and UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music director, Dr. Timothy Rice. There are many more names to mention, especially in the instrumental field, but these are just a few that make the music department special.

They have motivated the students and guest artists to perform with an intense energy that is unique unto youthful talent. This zest for performing is one reason I enjoy attending student productions. In many instances, the student productions are superior to those that are labeled professional.

I consider the chairman of the board of the Opera Gala to have been renowned baritone Vladimir Chernov. Not only did he work tirelessly with the young performers, but he was the trunk of the tree from which the branches and leaves could grow. He was the flesh-and-blood onstage role model. He set an example for the many talented young students to emulate.

Chernov walked onto the stage with an immediate presence. His voice, body and sound were not tentative, but secure. He sang well-supported with a rich tonal quality and resonance. And he added the requisite emotion and musicianship to show that the character of Posa in Verdi’s “Don Carlo” was willing to die for his country if Carlo could save Flanders and rule Spain, thereafter.

Chernov continued to stand out in the Act 1 finale of “Simon Boccanegra.” He was another chairman of the board as he presided over the waltz sequence in Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin,” later to realize that he (as Onegin) loved Tatyana even though he had been disrespectful of her love for him before.

I would have enjoyed more of “Onegin” – maybe Onegin’s aria in Act 1, and of course, the final dramatic scene when Onegin begs Tatyana for her love to no avail. The music is glorious. I wanted more.

Rather than delve through the complete program here, I would simply like to mention the standouts.

Bass Gabriel Vamvulescu has a vocal quality that it is singular and unique. I heard it the moment he uttered his first notes as Fiesco in the selection from “Simon Boccanegra.” He continued by singing Gremin’s aria from “Eugene Onegin” and Kutuzov congratulating the Russian people as they reaffirmed their belief in themselves and country in Prokofiev’s “War and Peace.” With proper musical and technical guidance, Vamvulescu could have a promising future. His interests and talents are diverse and will hopefully develop as he sets priorities. He is a theologian and singer. The quality of his sound is amazingly rich and rare.

Soprano Anush Avetisyan is another singular talent. In exerpts from “La Forza del Destino” and “Simon Boccanegra,” her voice shone like a precious diamond.

Ashley Knight’s Lucia reached unconstrained heights. Henry Shin conducted the “La Forza del Destino” overture with a keen sense of timing, charisma and leadership. And tenor Daniel Suk concluded the program with a passionate “Nessun Dorma.”

The UCLA Philharmonia sounded professional. The Angeles and UCLA Chorales awed us with their intense and fervent sound under the baton of choral director Donald Neuen.

What a way to end the school year as many of the students receive undergraduate and graduate degrees. This annual concert in Royce Hall is a collaboration between the various musical groups on the UCLA campus. Opera UCLA added an even grander dimension this year. The result was astounding, stirring and intense.

John Sutton is the artistic director of the Angeles Chorale, a volunteer organization of auditioned choral singers. Additional student soloists included Matthew Claiborne, Griffith Frank, Joshua Guerrero, Nicholas LaGesse, Leela Subramaniam and Ryan Thorn.

They all received a well-deserved standing ovation.


Conductor Donald Neuen and Baritone Vladimir Chernov

Conductor Donald Neuen and Baritone Vladimir Chernov