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Sunday, December 08, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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Trinidad, land of…the voice
In musical circles Trinidad has been recognised (at least from the days of Roaring Lion’s kaiso) as the land of calypso, steelpan and more recently, soca.
In the light of the recent Classical Music Development Foundation of T&T (CMDFTT) first annual competition, we may now have to revise this list and include the very first organic instrument discovered by humans: the voice.
All seven finalists (eventual winner John Thomas, second-placed Christian Noel, third spot Stephanie Nahous, along with their equally gifted and honourably mentioned fellow competitors Llettesha Sylvester, Ayrice Wilson, Stephan Hernandez and Kevin Yung) were singers (although mention must be made of the three instrumentalists who did not progress beyond the semi-final: classical guitarist Seth Escalante, cellist Tracell Frederick and violinist Chelsea Goolcharan).
Every one of the magnificent seven finalists is currently enrolled in voice studies, mostly abroad, and if their individual performances are any measure of success, they are all capable of following in the footsteps of such local singers who have made international careers, as Anne Fridal, June Nathaniel, Ronald Samm and Jeanine De Bique.
The choices of songs and arias made easy listening for a disappointingly small audience. The range of voice, mood and context ensured audience entertainment while allowing competitors to showcase their individual strengths, nuances and depths. Besides the obvious emotive offerings like Gluck’s Unis de la plus tendre enfance and O Del Mio Dolce Ardor, or Stephano Donaudy’s O bei nidi d’amore, we were exhorted to open our hearts by Bizet’s Ouvre ton Coeur, raised to transcendence by Haydn’s Mit Wurd und Hoheit angetan and vicariously invited to reflection by Lensky’s aria from Tchaikovsky’s opera Eugene Onegin.
Opening competitor Kevin Yung surprised the house with his rarely heard (in Trinidad) counter tenor, manfully delivering the aria Sposa son disprezzata (from Vivaldi’s opera Bajazet) and But Who May Abide from Handel’s Messiah, while Llettsesha Sylvester introduced a lighter comic note, with her rendition of Poor Wandering One from the Pirates of Penzance.
Honourably-mentioned 22-year-old Stephan Hernadez, one of the younger competitors combined classical with popular in his selections: first ambitiously attempting Xerxes’ opening aria to Handel’s opera Serse, before revisiting the old South of Confederacy days with the Negro Spiritual Witness.
To the untrained ear it was extremely difficult to place the magnificent seven competitively and thankfully this uneviable task fell to the judges: choral and orchestral conductor Carlos Aransay, mezzo-soprano Hilda Harris and local flautist Anthony Woodroffe Jnr (himself a previous T&T Music Festival winner).
It was probably no surprise that Stephanie Nahous won the Audience prize (voted for during the semi final) or that she secured third place in the final, despite at 22, being one of the younger competitors.
She appeared far more comfortable onstage than many of her fellow competitors, adopting a side profile posture exuding a confidence which registered in her dramatic soprano rendering of Ouvre ton Coeur (part of a dramatic piece Bizet composed as a student in Rome, known as the ode‐symphony Vasco da Gama).
Her second piece Musetta’s Waltz from Puccini’s opera la Boheme again allowed her to assume a dramatic persona, which may well have won her important extra points for interpretation.
Nahous has learnt early that having “the voice” is only one aspect of performance; her vocal delivery as well as her stage presence combined for a performance mature beyond her years.
Second place 24-year-old Christian Joel proved that control and moderation can be more effective than mere volume. With his finely modulated tenor he first brought polish, colour and the requisite sensibility to Gluck’s tender Unis de la plus tendre enfance and then evoked the awe demanded by the Mit Wurd und Hoheit angetan aria from Handel’s Creation.
While all comparisons are odious and competitions in any discipline of the performing arts may favour the brave rather than the talented, few would quarrel with the judges’ decision to award first prize to 27-year-old tenor John Thomas His opening choice— Lensky’s aria from the Tchaikovsky opera Eugene Onegin— gave him the scope to showcase his interpretive skills.
Lensky’s pre-dawn reflections before fighting a duel (provoked by Onegin’s unwanted advances on his fiancée Olga) encompass a shifting range of emotions: from fatalism and fears of mortality to nostalgia, the poignancy of an early death, yearning for lost love, to hopelessness, fatalism, resignation and acceptance.
Thomas was more than equal to the challenge of this emotional kaleidoscope, without straying into the temptation of over indulging any one emotional colour, at the expense of diversity.
In his second piece (Paris’ araia from the Gluck opera Paride ed Elena) Thomas gave this declaration of love the emotional depth and sincerity that can win the hardest of hearts, without slipping into sentimentality.
Carlos Aransay’s post-competition remark that the best tenors in the world are now to be found in Trinidad and Latin America, should not be taken lightly. Judging as a layman, it seems that we also have an emerging cadre of sopranos ready to stand by their tenor counterparts.
All the competitors in this inaugural CMDFTT competition will do T&T proud in the opera houses and concert halls of the world. CMDFTT can be justifiably proud, not only for organizing the competition (which as CMDFTT director Annette Dopwell noted gives much needed funding to the young artistes) but also for creating a supportive nurturing network for young classical musicians, thereby extending T&T’s international musical reputation — as the land of the voice.
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