As quarantine wears on, we become more sadly aware of the costs on our beloved performing arts. But hard is it has been on the Met and opera stars, imagine for a moment what this all means for young emerging classical musicians.

The Academy of Vocal Arts Class of 2020 includes seven highly gifted singers, already with professional credits, who were engaged in polishing their work at the highest level, and ready to ramp up their careers.

The reality of our dormant spring offers them little professional opportunity. Even the in-person farewell recital that they—and the significant fan base they built here during their Philadelphia residencies—deserve cannot be held due to social distancing guidelines.

But all is not lost. AVA met the challenge with a delightful, if necessarily truncated, video recital that allowed each singer to participate in the now-familiar Zoom platform.

As with all such concerts, including the Met’s remarkable marathon gala, there must be allowances made for less-than-optimal circumstances. Several of these performers really thrive in the large format of an opera house and aren’t equally well served in intimate chamber circumstances. Similarly, this repertoire—all songs rather than arias—isn’t necessarily what they specialize in.

Nonetheless, there is much lovely work here, and a chance for those of you not living in Philly to discover their talents in a way that a live recital wouldn’t offer. I feel hopeful… no, let’s be more optimistic… I feel confident that you’ll hear them again in better circumstances.

Till then, a few brief observations…

Rebecca Gulinello @2:36

From her home in Melbourne, Australia, Gulinello kicks things off with the one best performances here. Singing the theme from Cinema Paradiso, accompanied by pianist José Meléndez and violinist Alexander Kislitsyn, Gulinello’s lovely, relaxed manner and distinctive vocal quality, with an appealing hint of smokiness in the tone, is ideally suited to this bit of cabaret material. In previous work at AVA, I’ve thought of Gulinello as the team’s young Ileana Cotrubas—a singer I often adore—and the musicality and “face” here bears that out.

Timothy Renner @5:50

At home in Philadelphia, Renner, accompanying himself on the piano, offers the spiritual “Give Me Jesus.” We feel witness to a deeply heartfelt, personal moment—one considerably different from Renner’s characteristic manner at AVA, which has been bold theatricality, coupled with a ringing, very much “operatic” baritone. I think of this as one of the remarkable aspects of the “Zoom Concert”—the intimacy connects us to the artist in sometimes unexpected ways.

Brent Michael Smith @10:50

Smith, like Renner, to me has been very much an opera singer, with a strong stage personality, swagger, and considerable physical glamour; also, a large bass voice that opens up in a suitably grand space. Here, also singing from home and accompanied by Meléndez, Smith offers the beautifully austere “At the River.” It’s a considerably different side of his personality, but the singing shows both the focus of his presence and the quality of his instrument.

Claire de Monteil @13:38 

From her hometown of Paris, France—again, accompanied by Meléndez—de Monteil sings Caccini’s “Ave Maria,” which showcases a number of the qualities that have made her a star to watch throughout her AVA career: a substantial lyric soprano with lovely, unforced tone, and a special shimmer and float in the upper middle-to-top register. De Monteil’s sound is theater-filling even in dramatic roles (I heard her first as Leonora in Il Trovatore), but the blue-chip beauty of her voice is equally evident in this more intimate style.

Oliver Sewell @18:27 

This tenor hails from Christchurch, New Zealand—and it’s from there that he (also with the indefatigable Meléndez at the piano) offers “I Hear You Calling Me.” It’s a sweetly old-fashioned choice—lovers of old records will know it as a signature song for John McCormack—and it’s intriguingly in keeping with the sense I’ve had of Sewell in operatic roles. There is a quality of maturity and elegance uncommon in a one so young, as well as a compelling seriousness and focus. All of these elements bode well for the substantial career he deserves.

Two more AVA 2020 grads were unable to participate in this recital, due to technical problems with the Zoom hookups. Both are also very promising singers who deserve notice, and luckily YouTube offers some tasty examples of their artistry:

Abraham Breton (Pueblo, Mexico)

Mackenzie Gotcher (Michigan)

(Also featuring soprano Alexandra Nowakowski and mezzo Hannah Ludwig, both AVA alumnae)

Let’s raise a virtual glass to each and all of them—cheers to happy years ahead!