“The Impossible Dream” Made Possible by Career Bridges

From www.vocedimeche.reviews, edited by Lorraine Silvetz.

Career Bridges 17th Annual Opera Gala-6466-L

New York, N.Y. The designation “gala” is used rather loosely these days but the dazzling evening we experienced last night at The Metropolitan Club was gala in every sense of the word. Luminaries of Planet Opera gathered in force to celebrate the next generation of opera stars, recipients of awards from The Schuyler Foundation for Career Bridges.

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Co-Artistic Directors and Founders, David Schuyler Bender and
Barbara Meister Bender. 
Photo credit, Jeff Smith.

The Foundation has been performing a vital service for 17 years now. Founded by David Schuyler Bender and Barbara Meister Bender with the mission of providing vital assistance to young opera singers as they transition from training to stardom. Awardees receive three years of mentoring, financial support, and performance opportunities. A combination of wise selection and this assistance has had a phenomenal rate of success.

Career Bridges 17th Annual Opera Gala-6482-XLAward Winners and Honorees front row L to R: Isabel Leonard, Tianchi Zhang,
Anna Montgomery. Anton Coppola, Eve Queler, Kelly Singer, Barbara Meister Bender,
David Schuyler Bender, Mary Beth Nelson, Hannah Friesen. 
Back L to R:
Lauren Flanigan, Alec Carlson, Jongwon Han, Jorell Williams, Gabriel Hernandez,
John Noh, Teresa Castillo, Erika Baikoff and Ganson Salmon.  Photo credit, Jeff Smith.

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Barbara Meister Bender and Distinguished Achievement Award
Winner, the renowned, Isabel Leonard. Photo credit, Jeff Smith.

What is more, for three years they have provided outreach to youngsters in their Kids Love Opera program, reaching 7000 primary school students at an age that almost guarantees a lifelong interest in opera. These kids will grow up and provide the next generation of opera goers. Hooray for the Foundation!

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Opera Superstar, Lauren Flanagan. Photo credit, Jeff Smith.

The Benders are one of those beautiful couples–beautiful inside as well as outside. Their welcoming remarks got the evening off to a wonderful start. Guests forgot the damp and dreary weather and basked in the delightful entertainment, which was dispersed between the courses of dinner. Most of the singers were this year’s winners except for Teresa Castillo (2017) and Jorell Williams, a winner from 2008, who showed us what happens to the artists when they complete the program.

Career Bridges 17th Annual Opera Gala--XLJimena and Gregory Bender.
Photo credit, Jeff Smith.

Ms. Castillo opened the program with a Händel aria that showed off her flexible coloratura in harmony with the trumpet of David Glukh. Mary Beth Nelson performed our favorite Rossini aria–“Una voce poco fa”–demonstrating a personality as pleasing as her voice. Similarly, our favorite Donizetti aria–“Una furtiva lagrima”– was performed by Tianchi Zhang, with fine dynamic shading.

Rebecca Ricks & Lorraine Silvetz @ Career Bridges 17th Annual Opera Gala-6506-LLorraine Silvetz, Ivonne Camacho, and
Rebecca Ricks. Photo credit, Jeff Smith.

From Linda di Chamounix, an opera we know little of, Erika Baikoff sang the familiar “O luce di quest’ anima”, with fine fioritura. Mr. Williams and guest Ganson Salmon had excellent interpersonal chemistry as Marcello and Rodolfo in “O Mimi tu più non torni”.

Career Bridges 17th Annual Opera Gala-6683-XLBarbara Meister Bender.
Photo credit, Jeff Smith.

Receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award was centenarian Anton Coppola who looks fit and hearty. Apparently, keeping active is a means of staying youthful. We most recently heard Maestro Coppola conduct a master class for Martina Arroyo’s Prelude to Performance program. His teaching was astute and perfectly personalized.

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xLarry Nelson and Jane Thorngren.
Photo credit, Jeff Smith.

After the break for Maestro Coppola’s award, Ms. Castillo and Mr. Williams gave us the delightful “Papagena, Papageno” duet, an audience favorite. We loved the conclusion in which Mr. Williams carried Ms. Castillo off in his arms. John Noh captivated us with his “Kuda, kuda”, giving it a psychologically sensitive performance, enhanced by an affecting decrescendo.


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Anton Coppola, Lifetime Achievement
Award Winner, Nat Chandler and
guest. Photo credit, Jeff Smith.

Hannah Friesen’s sweet sound was perfect for “Sul fil d’un soffrio etesio” from Verdi’s Falstaff. Jongwon Han’s secure baritone was perfect for the “Catalogue Aria” from Mozart’s Don Giovani which he enhanced with appropriate expression and gesture. The difficult quartet from Verdi’s Rigoletto was made to sound easy by Ms. Castillo, Ms. Nelson, Mr. Salmon, and Mr. Williams.

unnamedLorraine Silvetz & the Crown Prince of
Cabaret, Steve Ross. Photo credit, Jeff Smith.

Superstar soprano Lauren Flanagan sadly did not sing but spoke eloquently, introducing the recipient of the Distinguished Achievement Award–superstar Isabel Leonard about whom we have written since we began writing. She is as beautiful as her voice and incredibly gracious.

Career Bridges 17th Annual Opera Gala-6706-XLJimena Bender, Barbara Meister Bender and Gregory Bender.
Photo credit, Jeff Smith.

We were happy to hear more of Rigoletto when Alec Carlson took on the role of the licentious Duke in the famous “Questa o quella”. Anne Montgomery performed Lehar’s “Liebe du Himmel auf Erden”. Gabriel Hernandez gave us “Here I Stand” from Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress. The aptly named Kelly Singer gave a deliciously dramatic performance of “Non, monsieur mon mari” from Poulenc’s comic opera Les Mamelles de Tirésius.


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Rebecca Ricks, Brooke Alexander, Jane Thorngren, Loda Yamashita,
Angel Meri, Angelica Monis, Barbara Meister Bender, Jimena Bender,
and Lorraine Silvetz. Photo credit, Jeff Smith.

The tireless Ted Taylor as Music Director did a bang up job accompanying all of these gifted young singers in such a great variety of material.

Career Bridges 17th Annual Opera Gala-6479-XL (1)
Career Bridges’ Award Winners: Front L to R Tianchi Zhang, Anna Montgomery,
Kelly Singer, Hannah Friesen, Mary Beth Nelson. 
Back L to R Alec Carlson,
Jongwon Han, Jon Noh, Gabriel Hernandez, Erika Baikoff. Photo credit, Jeff Smith.

The entire group joined Mr. Williams for the highly appropriate “The Impossible Dream” from Man of La Mancha. The reason we thought it appropriate is that becoming an opera singer seems like an impossible dream but people like The Benders are making it possible!

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Career Bridges’ Ensemble. Photo credit, Jeff Smith.

For more information on Career Bridges go to www.careerbridges.org.

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About Lorraine Silvetz, MSW

View all posts by Lorraine Silvetz, MSW
Lorraine Silvetz, MSW
Lorraine Silvetz is a trained Psychotherapist with a Master’s Degree of Social Work from New York University specializing in the treatment of returning veterans suffering from Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS) and suicidal ideation. Lorraine formerly served as Director at iSynchrony Clinic in Oakton, Virginia The clinic offered individualized transcranial magnetic stimulation (iTMS) for the treatment of PTSD and TBI. She and her husband, Robert Silvetz, MD are bringing the innovative treatment to the northeast. Earning a film degree from NYU Tisch School of the Arts helped contribute to a creative approach to advocacy in the world of mental health.

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