Bigger than usual

Mezzo Ludwig, offering “amplitude and musical class.”

Philadelphia’s Academy of Vocal Arts, a top-tier advanced training program for singers launching professional careers, always sends off their artists in style. But this year’s farewell concert for departing fourth-year resident artists felt bigger than usual in every way—more celebratory, more sentimental, more produced.  

And rightly so, since this group is among the most distinguished AVA has had in memory. All six singers—Marco Cammarota (tenor), Hannah Ludwig (mezzo), Nathan Milholin (bass-baritone), Alexandra Nowakowski (soprano), Daniel Noyola (bass-baritone) and Vanessa Vasquez (soprano)—are likely to forge significant careers in opera houses. Some have already started.

Still, this night really belonged to the ladies. Keep these three names in mind as major prospects. In order of my own favorites…

Something of an MVP at AVA, Ludwig has demonstrated substantial breadth across a wide range of repertoire. Her lustrous, distinctively-colored mezzo soprano has a real sense of amplitude and musical class.

I don’t think that her prominence in the program (she opened and closed it) was an accident, and it included two arias from Bach’s “Ich habe genug” (both gorgeously sung with real flexibility); Rosenkavalier and Lakmé duets (with soprano Nowakowski) where Ludwig anchored the lower line with finesse; and a charming, theatrical vivid reading of “A Little Priest” from Sweeney Todd (with Nathan Milholin doing a good job as Todd).

The Bach and Strauss excerpts in particular put me in mind of another great Ludwig—Christa—and I expect Hannah will live up to that very high standard.

“Enchanting” Vasquez

Vasquez is an enchanting lyric soprano with a beautifully liquid flow to the tone, exceptional breath control, and best of all, exquisite taste and musicality. Her first aria, “Vissi d’arte,” might be a size too big for her (Mimi will be her role next year at Opera Philadelphia), but it was superbly judged and sung with a perfect combination of fervor and restraint. The Merry Widow duet (with Noyola) and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” benefitted from the same virtues.

Nowakowksi, projecting “confidence and glamour”

Coloratura Nowakowski knows the value of bravura—Lakmé’s Bell Song was the first item, and her easy, accurate passagework and dazzling staccati won a huge ovation. Nowakowksi also projects confidence and glamour.

The very top notes turned a bit glassy, and I wish she’d found more pathos and mystery in the haunting shadow effects in the opening vocalise—generally, I think Nowakowski can afford to linger more lovingly over the long, soft passages (this was true also in the Presentation of the Rose). But she was absolutely lovely in Lakmé duet, and in “Moja Pieszczotka,” a charming Chopin song.

Hail, farewell, and toi toi toi to all! I think you’ll be hearing more from them soon.

Photos: Paul Sirochman