Thu, 18 Aug 1994

Artists International back to aid Red Cross

By Gus Kairupan

JAKARTA (JP): They were back again, the Artists International, a group of opera singers that undertakes tours every year to Asian countries under the auspice of the Sime Darby Group, the main sponsor behind the 4-year old event.

Other sponsors of Le Grand Opera this year were Malaysian Airline System and of course Sahid Jaya Hotel and Tower which by now can be referred to as the home of opera music in Jakarta. Like the event last year, the performance this year was in aid of the Indonesian Red Cross.

One admirable custom of Artists International is that local talents are invited to take part, which is a big boost for them if only because the event provides them with an opportunity to practice what they have been trained for. Full-fledged opera performances are still awaiting development in this country, although arias and excerpts are often featured in programs of vocal music. The Indonesian singers who took part this year were mezzo-soprano Catharina Wewengkang-Leimena and baritone Pranadjaja.

For some of the members of Artists International the appearance here was a second. Adib Fazah was here again, but then he is the prime mover behind the formation of Artists International. Last year though, Adib Fazah, a baritone, was not well and could not sing. Mezzo-soprano Gwendolyn Jones, too, was here last year, as were tenors Noel Espiritu Velasco and Rico Serbo and bass, Stefan Szkafarowsky. The new comers were the soprano singers, Patrice Boyd and Pamela Kucenic, a most impressive and powerful singer. And last, but definitely not least, Oksana Protenic, the accompanist who carried the lion's share of the performance on Aug. 11.

The program included excerpts -- arias as well as ensembles -- from works by Ruggiero Leoncavallo, Gaetano Donizetti, Umberto Giordano, Christoph Willibald Gluck, Giuseppe Verdi, Camille Saint-Saens, Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Pietro Mascagni, Richard Strauss, and Charles Gounod. For arias my vote goes to Stefan Szkafarowsky who rendered O Tu Palermo from Verdi's I Vespri Siciliani; Pamela Kucenic's incomparable interpretation of Pace, Pace from La Forza del Destino, also by Verdi; Improvviso di Chenier from Giordano's Andrea Chenier and sung by Noel Espiritu Velasco and Mon Coeur s'ouvre a ta Voix from Sanson et Delila by Camille Saint-Saens and rendered by Gwendolyn Jones, a rendition that I will remember for a long time. I also remember Espiritu Velasco's interpretation, last year, of Che Gelida Manina (Puccini's "La Boheme") that sent shivers down my spine.


As for ensembles, the ones that really stood out were the duet from Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana which featured Pamela Kucenic and Noel Espiritu Velasco. This was the number in which their singing and acting skills really came to the fore.

Cavalleria Rusticana is regarded as one of the prime samples of an operatic style that is known as verismo, or realism (in opera, that is). It means that if you're angry, show real anger and don't go into roulades a la Queen of the Night. Other very noteworthy samples of team work were the duet from Gounod's Faust with Rico Serbo and Stefan Szkafarowsky, and the duet from Verdi's Il Trovatore with Adib Fazah and Pamela Kucenic. I'd say it was the four singers, Kucenic, Jones, Espiritu Velasco and Szkafarowsky who carried the evening, which does not mean that the others did not deliver the goods. The differences were especially noticeable in the ensembles. Soprano Patrice Boyd who only appeared in duets has a rather thin and small voice, and was overpowered by Rico Serbo (duet from Donizetti's L'Elisir d'a more), Pranadjaja (duet from Mozart's Don Giovanni) and Gwendolyn Jones (duet from Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier). Catharina Leimena also suffered from a too strong partner, Noel Espiritu Velasco, in the duet from Verdi's Il Trovatore. It seems Leimena has lost power, something that was already evident in the aria Che faro senza Euridice from Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice, a rendition that sounded uncommonly low -- not that I know what key it is written in. Pranadjaja, on the other hand, was quite admirable both in the aria Di Provenza, il mar, il suol from Verdi's La Traviata and La ci darem la mano (Mozart's Don Giovanni). He could have done better if he'd also acted a bit to emphasize the character of the lecherous Don. Most of the time he stood well away from Zerlina (Patrice Boyd) whom the Don is trying to seduce.

Extra kudos must go to Oksana Procenic, the accompanist who would've been dog-tired after the performance. She is, after all, the only one who never leaves the stage. But apart from that there was the extra power she applied in her playing. I have never seen anyone banging away with so much force. But then, she had to because the instrument couldn't be much more than five feet, if not less.

In all, a rather mixed bag of some very good performances and some that were less so. Still, events of music from the opera are a rarity, so performances by Artists International deserve appreciation.