One of the perqs of living in New York (oh, there are still a few) is the availability of extraordinary talent–especially at some of the great conservatories in Manhattan: Juilliard; the Manhattan School of Music; and Mannes College the New School of Music. All three have overflowing schedules of concerts and recitals by students and world-class faculty; most of them are free, or generate reverse sticker shock when you pay the piper. Whether you’re keen on new works, new interpretations, or new voices, the music is always about discovery.
Last year, the Manhattan School premiered John Musto’s Later the Same Evening—based on a series of paintings-come-to-life by Edward Hopper. Ingeniously conceived by librettist Mark Campbell, and staged in the same vein by Leon Major, it was a beautifully integrated character study in music; clever and moving, that deserves a long and busy life. (www.albanyrecords.com)
Most recently, a performance of Gabriel Fauré’s Penelope, also at the Manhattan School, was another kind of discovery; not of a new work, but of a seldom-presented opera by a prolific writer of vocal music, best known for his Requiem and ravishing art songs. Penelope (composed when he was sixty-two) was Fauré’s first full opera. And although he conceived of it as a story whose legendary characters would be represented by specific themes (all of them requiring substantial vocal skill), it is the title role that shines above all others.
Soprano Lori Guilbeau was a Penelope to make Fauré proud: with a full-throated tone that soared, she expressed longing for her absent husband, joy as she recalled the pleasures of their marriage, and fury at the suitors trying to force her into marrying one of them. What a gorgeous voice! And it was matched by tenor Cooper Nolan as the Ullyses, who returns in time to reclaim throne and consort. In fact, the quality of the singers was uniformly high.
Conservatory evenings offer another perq not often found in the concert hall: the sense of full audience involvement (heavy on either current or former faculty and students), a little like a group musical hug. The warmth is contagious, and makes you feel like part of the action. So check out the Web site (www.msmnyc.edu) for a listing of all the goodies—classical, jazz, Opera, orchestral, chamber music—travel a little, and find the gold at the end of your own particular rainbow.