Yesterday afternoon my wife and I attended a recital given by students of the Chicago Studio of Professional Singing, dubbed An Afternoon of Arias&148;. Our dear friend, Janice Pantazelos, is the director and master voice teacher of the CSPS and we’ve been attending performances by the students of the CSPS for years in a number of different venues.
CSPS students vary in age, ability, and experience from 20 to their mid 50s and from more or less beginning students to highly accomplished professionals or the equals of most professionals. In some instances the performers were giving their first public performances of operatic arias but by this I do not mean they were hesitant, reluctant, or inept. Quite the contrary. Even the debut performances were executed at the very least with substantial accuracy (which in some cases is better than we’ve heard at Lyric Opera lately) and in at least one instance the debut performance by quite a young woman was in my estimate of professional caliber. Basically, there wasn’t a bum performance in the bunch and some of them were actually brilliant.
The program was a refreshing departure from the Verdi and Puccini works that have so dominated Lyric for the last few years. Many of the works performed were by bel canto composers (Bellini, Rossini, Donizetti) or by composers whose style lent itself well to bel canto (Handel, Mozart) or by composers whose style bridged the gap between the earlier musical style and bel canto (Meyerbeer). What there was of verismo was by and large Mascagni and Leoncavallo and what might be deemed the pre-verismo Bizet and Boito. If you’re not an opera buff, bel canto is a style of composition and singing characterized by grace, agility, and precision with a light attack on the upper registers compared with the later, darker, more ardent style of Verdi. Verismo, realism, usually sacrifices legato for passion.
I heard some old friends yesterday. For example, it’s been at least forty years (and possibly more than fifty—the memory begins to recede) since I’ve heard Ombre légère from Meyerbeer’s opera, Dinorah, performed live. What a delight!
One of things about hearing a group of students perform over a number of years is that you have the privilege of listening to them develop from hesitant to merely competent and, sometimes, to great musicianship, grace, and skill. How gratifying that must be to Janice. And what a tribute to her teaching! For example, last night we heard her student, Lela Philbrook, who always obviously had the chops, perform not only with ability but with tremendous subtlety, musicianship, even virtuosity. In another example Stuart Bard, a tenor, over the years has made the journey from mere competence to great musicianship, musicality, and authority. Listening to his performance of Deserto in terra from Donizetti’s Don Sebastiano was a real treat.
If you have any interest in opera at all or just in really good singing, I can heartily recommend attending the CSPS’s galas. The Chicago Studio of Professional Singing’s web site is here and I believe there’s a cabaret scheduled for December 17th.
I am so honored by your review of my singers. I am very proud of them. Every year I wonder how will I possibly do better but somehow we do and many that have moved on to professional careers are replaced by singers who are on their journey. I love working with them and yes I am very demanding in a positive, loving way and I see you saw this too. I am proud that all my singers are supportive of each other. No diva egos here…not allowed..Thanks again for your kind words. It was great to see you both there!!!