Talents of the World: First International Music Festival at Carnegie Hall
Talents of the World is an international concert organization that has hosted concerts across all continents since its establishment in 2002. With a mission to move the spirits and minds of audiences, the organization has arranged many festivals and concerts that celebrate music of various forms and genres. Now, in December of 2018, they are planning an event at New York City’s historic Carnegie Hall.
The operatic concert is actually Talents of the World’s first International Music Festival to take place on American soil. It will run from December 21 to 23, culminating in a Christmas Ball. The event will celebrate and pay tribute to the talents of Enrico Caruso and Maria Callas and also feature an array of guest artists who are regaled by the music community.
Talents of the World’s First International Music Festival will feature theater music from Broadway, opera, Neapolitan songs, pop hits and — of course — Christmas ballads. The range of musical styles will showcase tenors, baritones, sopranos, and everything in between.
Recently soprano and voice teacher Olga Lisovskaya discussed this show, music, and more via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you get into the music world and how did you start organizing events?
Olga Lisovskaya (OL): My mother was a classical singer, and by the age of seven I watched at least two operas a week at Kyiv Tchaikovsky Musical Academy, even participated in one (Rachmaninoff’s Aleko) and learnt several opera roles by heart just from hearing them so often. Even though I was musical, won children’s piano competitions, sang in the chorus and was a leading actress at a Youth Musical Theater (we even toured to Japan, Europe and USA) I did not start studying voice until I came to the United States at the age of sixteen years. A High School teacher discovered I had a good classical voice potential and began giving me free voice lessons. After I performed my first few opera arias in concerts and competitions, I discovered my true passion. I continued my studies at Middlebury College in Vermont, with Lia Kähler, a Wagnerian mezzo-soprano. And, even though my major was International Politics and Economics, I took a chance to dedicate my time to opera. I received a Certificate in Voice from l’Ecole Normale de Musique d’A. Cortot in Paris, France, did a few YAPs and was well on my way to having an opera career. Even after having won a few voice competitions/performances in fully-staged operas, my career was not developing at the pace I wanted. So, I began making my own performance opportunities. I met a few good colleagues — also singers- who were doing the same thing, and together we were able to create something meaningful. First, it was with Alexander Prokhorov, a bass-baritone, that we co-founded an award-winning opera company, Commonwealth Lyric Theater.
MM: How did you come to work with Talent of the World and how many events have you organized?
OL: Just a few years ago — in 2016 — I was asked to perform with Talents of the World, an international concert organization. During the rehearsal process, the President, David Gvinianidze, saw in me not only a good singer, but also an organizer/leader and offered me the position of Director of Talents of the World’s USA Branch, which I happily accepted. Since then, we’ve produced together about 30 concerts, each a unique project, featuring famous opera singers from prestigious opera houses, like Metropolitan Opera, Bolshoi Theater, Royal Opera House, La Scala, and others, organized tours and had two Carnegie Hall concerts. Now, we are proudly presenting Talents of the World’s First International Festival at Carnegie Hall on December 21, 22 and 23.
MM: What can audiences expect from Talent of the World events?
OL: Every single event, organized by Talents of the World in the USA, ends with a standing ovation! It is an exciting feeling to be bringing back to life the art of bel canto and educating audiences in what true masterful singing is all about. The level of our artists is very high — they are experienced singers, who have performed all over the world at the most prestigious opera houses. And so, the knowledgeable audiences are able to appreciate and marvel at their skill, while the novice listener is awed by the virtuosity and beauty of singing, becoming a follower of classical singing. Last year Talents of the World started its Annual Voice Competition, and this year just finished our Second International Competition. The singers, who applied and competed are superbly talented, and the winners perform with Talents of the World at Carnegie Hall and other concerts. In addition to vocal mastery, Talents of the World’s projects offer a unique experience to the audiences: the projects’ ideas and programs have been invented especially for Talents of the World and already withstood the test of time in Europe and Asia, creating a solid fan base, which follows us over the years. The repertoire selection is always very careful, showcasing the classical repertoire’s favorite works. Add unique and entertaining staging into the mix — and the concert-going experience is very memorable.
MM: Which concerts and festivals have been the most memorable and why?
OL: We’ve had a number of extraordinary experiences. I would like to name two. Our very first performance at Carnegie Hall -Three Tenors from Around the World and Friends — was sold out! New York audience began cheering after the very first number — the famous “Nessun Dorma”, Calaf’s aria from Turandot by Puccini, performed by all three tenors, with the ringing high B flat at the end — and then the energy in the hall was getting hotter with every single aria and song, until the standing ovations erupted at the end of the first half. By the second half everyone — the audience members and the artists — were drunk with sheer joy from the positive and exuberant energy, that the performance took flight and everyone felt the freedom of expression and witnessed true creation of art.
Another experience — a more recent one — was at the Grand Finals of our International Voice Competition in November at Opera America in New York. We had a distinguished panel of judges, comprised of conductors, producers, voice teachers and agents from some of the most prestigious agencies in the world. By the Grand Finals the judges have selected singers from several rounds, and we witnessed a group of superbly talented singers. One of the favorites to win Grand Prix came to the stage and blew everyone away with his rendition of “Ah, mes amis” — Tonio’s aria from The Daughter of the Regiment by G. Donizetti, famous for its 9 high C’s. The Grand Finals were open to the public, and the audience was enraptured, the judges were nodding and smiling, and asked for a second piece — a tricky choice — a song by R. Strauss, which required a different adjustment of the vocal apparatus, since the melody line mostly revolved around the middle register (and, after the high tessitura of the previous aria, the middle-range singing shows the singer’s breath control and balance).
After the second piece, the judges were satisfied with what they heard and said they had enough information to make the decision. And, since most singers were asked to perform two pieces, everyone expected for the judges to let the tenor go, which is what the judges did. Our President, however, said “Could you please sing for us one more aria? Ernesto’s aria from Don Pasquale by G. Donizetti?” (from my private conversation with David Gvinianidze I knew that he had performed that role many times, and that aria was the trickiest piece in the entire opera, because it lies in the tenor’s passaggio, an area in a singer’s voice, which is the most difficult to conquer. Even Pavarotti said it took him 20 years to finally know what he was doing in his passaggio). Here was a surprised murmur in the audience, and it felt like the stage turned into a sports arena. The tenor smiled and said “With pleasure” — and proceeded to perform a perfectly and intelligently executed aria. Everyone was happy, cheering for the singer, the judges were saying “Thank you”, indicating that now they definitely had enough information to go on. The singer turned to leave the stage, and David Gvinianidze, with a mischievous twinkle in his eye said: “Could you please sing the stretta from this aria?” — the judges groaned, the audience gasped. The stretta in Ernesto’s aria is hard as it is, even for a singer with a well-rested voice. Now, the tenor has already performed a tour-de-force aria, a heavy-weight song and a tricky piece, taxing his passaggio. And, to perform the stretta is like asking a gymnast to show the rings routine after having done the floor exercise with the most difficult elements, after lifting heavy weights, and then doing a bar- routine. The tenor was sweating, the audience’s and the judges’ pulse was beating rapidly. This was a trap! With each piece the risk of failure increased exponentially. Don’t forget the stress and tension from the competition setting! The tenor gave his charming smile and began the stretta. Everyone was following each note with undivided attention, and here it is, the ending. Will he have the stamina, flexibility and control for the high note? And, not just any high note — a D flat, which is an optional note (it’s not in the score, but traditionally done by tenors to show off their skill.) Here it is! He nailed the high D flat, and everyone is ecstatic, the pressure relieved, a true victory! Needless to say, when the judges were discussing the grades for the winners, the tenor received the points, which were sufficient to put him on the top of the list. Thus, our Grand Prix winner was named — WooYoung Yoon, who will be performing at two concerts at Carnegie Hall Festival: “Three Tenors from Around the World: Celebrating Caruso’s 145th Anniversary” on December 22nd and Christmas Ball on December 23rd.
MM: How did you book Carnegie Hall and how did you select the talent?
OL: Performing at Carnegie Hall — the most prestigious concert Hall in the world — is a dream of every singer, but for David Gvinianidze it was not only a dream, but a feeling of certainty. With boldness, we approached Carnegie Hall and offered our most successful project — Three Tenors from Around the World, showing the organization’s experience and boasting artists of international standing, soloists with the Metropolitan Opera and Opera Australia. Our proposal was approved, and as soon as we launched the project, the ticket sales were going very fast. The talent was chosen from our colleagues that we performed with as well as approaching new artists, about whom we read in opera reviews, from colleagues’ recommendations, etc. And now, we have established a long-term relationship with Carnegie Hall, for which we feel blessed and very grateful.
MM: The event closes on December 23 with a Christmas Ball, so what can audiences expect from that evening compared to the first two?
OL: The opera world this year celebrates the legendary Maria Callas, who was one of the most controversial figures, but, indisputably, one of the most accomplished singers/actresses in the history of opera. Maria Callas embodies vocal technical perfection/ complete breath control/ total dedication and devotion to the art, almost to the point of personal sacrifice/ intelligent and sophisticated musicianship/ glamour, and the list goes on.
We are blessed with our Prima Donnas, performing in the Tribute to this extraordinary singer: Amanda Woodbury, an American soprano, soloist at Metropolitan Opera, winner and Audience Favorite of the prestigious Operalia Competition (Placido Domingo’s Competition), a sought-after performer and a lovely woman and colleague; opera’s superstar, Tamar Iveri, soloist with many of the most prestigious opera houses in the world, boasting a big and beautiful soprano voice, a glamorous Diva from the warm country of Georgia; and the youngest of the three — a gorgeous Ukrainian soprano, Ruslana Koval, Bolshoi Theater and Kyiv National Opera Theater soloist, winner of many international competitions, with a virtuosic coloratura abilities. Guest performers — David Gvinianidze, baritone, recipient of the United Nations Medal for promoting arts and culture in the world, Anna Cley, a French mezzo-soprano, Finalist of Talents of the World International Voice Competition, and Olga Lisovskaya, a Ukrainian soprano, Director of Talents of the World, soloist with many opera houses and a frequent performer at Carnegie Hall. Finally, joining them are the two winners of Talents of the World Voice Competition — Shaina Martinez, soprano (1st Prize Winner) and Sarah Joyce Cooper, soprano (2nd Prize). The concert presents the most celebrated arias and ensembles from Maria Callas’ Repertoire.
As we move on to the popular Three Tenor Concert on December 22nd, we introduce to you SIX tenors! Three established tenors — Arsen Soghomonyan, an Armenian tenor, whom the experts call “the New Caruso”, whose voice is a powerful instrument, capable of many colors and nuances, he sings with his heart and conquers the audiences at the Royal Opera House and Bolshoi Theater; Raúl Melo, a Cuban-American tenor, whose voice is compared to that of Luciano Pavarotti’s, a soloist with the Metropolitan Opera, and a regular performer with Talents of the World, having sung on tours of the USA and Russia with the company; and John Irvin, a young and exciting tenor, who has already performed with the Royal Opera House and the Metropolitan Opera, and recently performed to great critical acclaim the demanding role of Vaudémont in Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta under the baton of the first female Artistic Director and Conductor of a major opera house, Chicago Opera Theater, Lidiya Yankovskaya.
Three more tenors are the Winners of Talents of the World International Voice Competition: the Grand Prix winner, the King of High C’s, WooYoung Yoon, a Korean tenor; 3rd Prize Winner and Audience Favorite American tenor, Omar Najmi, with a velveteen voice; and Winner of a Special Prize, Chinese tenor, Tianchi Zhang, whose top notes are clear and impressive. This program, exclusively dominated by the tenor voices, will present the most popular arias and Neapolitan songs of the Great Caruso. It is truly thrilling to hear three tenor voices together, but when there are six superb tenor voices, we cannot guarantee that you will be able to stay in your seat the entire performance. Standing ovations are bound to happen.
Finally, the culmination, the crown jewel of our Festival — the Christmas Ball: A Merry Evening of Opera, Operetta, Broadway and Christmas Favorites on December 23rd. Featuring 18 soloists, it is a parade of wonderful voices — from bass, to baritone, to tenor, mezzo-soprano and all different types of soprano voices (from dramatic, to lyric, to spinto, to light lyric and true coloratura voice). Glamorous fashion, sparkle, uplifting arias and sing-along tunes, dazzling coloratura, staged comic scenes and big ensembles — this will be an evening of such vocal and fashion splendour that, if Carnegie Hall were able to be turned into a Ballroom, the audience would surely be moved to get up and dance. Many of the soloists will be the ones, whom you already met in our Maria Callas and Caruso concerts, adding a few special guests, with Victoria Ulanovskaya and Alexandra Naumenko at the piano.
MM: What are your favorite sorts of events to arrange and what concerts are coming up in 2019?
OL: Every event that Talents of the World does is special, because the reason, why Talents of the World even exists and continues to create, is the true passion for the art of classical singing. It is a well-known fact that opera and classical singing is going through difficult times, losing its audience, so the financial aspect cannot be the reason for producing such events. The mainstream media does not cover classical music nearly as much as it did in the past. Thus, the younger generations are being fed an exclusive diet of “pop”/ hip hop and rock music, leaving the beautiful classical music in the shadows. Thus, it takes dedicated individuals, lovers of this art to continue bringing the glory of this music to the audiences.
Headed by two professional singers, David Gvinianidze, baritone and Olga Lisovskaya, soprano, Talents of the World understands the demands of professional classical singing and are happy to help the new generation of singers, by providing exciting opportunities for them. Carnegie Hall is the venue of choice for Talents of the World, and we will continue our collaboration with them for the foreseeable future. The level of applicants was so high for our International Voice Competition, and we received such praise from the critics’ community, that Talents of the World is already planning its 3rd Annual International Voice Competition, with the application process opening very soon after the New Year.
Talents of the World’s mission is to promote the art of classical singing among wide audiences. In addition to opera, we include other genres in our concerts, such as operetta, Broadway, Neapolitan songs, Russian romances, movie music from Hollywood and from around the world, American Songbook, Soviet songs, zarzuela and other types of music, which sounds glorious with a well-produced, professional voice. We’ve collaborated with the beautiful Mechanics Hall in the past, and are planning to return there with a program of retro songs from 1950’s — 70’s, such as Sinatra, Hollywood, and others. Of course, our counterpart in Europe is busy at work with tours and multiple concerts in the area. David Gvinianidze himself always plans a tour of solo concerts in 20 cities of Russia and Asia. It’s a very busy season, indeed. For now, our main focus is, of course our very First Festival at Carnegie Hall this week. To keep up-to-date with our concerts, please visit http://talentsoftheworld.org.