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Music Review
by John Preedy, amateur tenor, choir member, blogger

There were about 150 people present outdoors in the square at Cornac, (Lot département 46), when Les Amis de Cornac organised a concert (Sunday 10th July 2011) presented by two singers who have very recently moved to La Levade, about a kilometre north of Cornac.

Cornac, Lot
Cornac, Lot

Nikolai Schukoff (tenor) and Isabelle Cals (mezzo) gave a programme of solo arias and duets. In the first half they sang pieces from grand opera and in the second half from German and French operetta.

Performing outdoors, without amplification does a singer no favours at all and they were very brave to do it! There is nothing to add resonance and reinforce the sound with reflections. It is the ultimate in dead acoustics!

Tenor, Nikolai Schukoff

It was clear in the first piece, the duo "Già nella notte densa" from Otello, that Nikolai has the more powerful voice throughout the range. He has an open top end and he can sing the romantic arias very convincingly, somewhere between a lyric and a spinto tenor. His voice will probably darken and add weight as he gets older, especially if, as I discovered on his very professional website, he continues to sing Wagner.

Isabelle Cals - Mezzo Soprano

Isabelle's Séguédille "Près des remparts de Séville" came across well to me in the second row, with plenty of verve and with the lowest notes having the right quality for a Carmen.

As I have written elsewhere, the pronunciation of French has many pitfalls for the non-native French speaker and Nikolai shared with Jonas Kaufmann in "La fleur que tu m'avais jetée" the strange pronunciation of " é "as an " i " (in french an i is pronounced as ee) instead of an "ay" sound. I know a certain German music teacher who would severely criticise him for this fault, and it is surprising that Isabelle doesn't correct him. I enjoyed it nonetheless.

From the Lausanne Production
At the end of the first half they both put everything they had into "C'est toi? C'est moi." the closing scene from Carmen, when she is murdered by Don José. For me it was the dramatic peak of the evening. They have sung this together in Lausanne.

Nikolaï Schukoff (Don José) & Isabelle Cals (Carmen)

Nikolai, in spite of having a Russian sounding name, is Austrian and was born near Graz. His stage presence is extraordinary. He relishes every opportunity to portray the emotions in an aria and he is very good at it! The acting re-inforces the singing and he gets everything out of the piece. He is helped by his looks!

Isabelle in real life is a lot sexier than this classic portrait suggests
Isabelle used all her feminine wiles in the operetta arias. She was flirtatious, charming and beguiling by turns. It is clear that she is very much at home in this repertoire and the fact that they are a couple helped to make the intimacy of the physical contact between them in some of the arias feel very natural. Her light, accurate and flexible voice really suited this part of the programme.

Like some other professional singers I know, Isabelle has not cultivated a presence on the web. So apart from the fact that she is French and finished her formal studies in 1995 the small amount of biographical information available is here.

When I looked at Nikolai's website in more detail he is already on his way to an international career at the highest level. And yes ladies, he is as virile as he looks in the pictures! But, as he said on stage, he only has eyes for Isabelle!

Video Performances - click clapperboard icon to watch and lsiten
click here to pop-up a new window to view Nikolai Schukoff perfoms "Maria", West Side Story
click here to pop-up a new window to view Isabelle Cals performs Jalousie's aria "Fille cruelle de l'amour"


Links to further information:
John Preedy, Blogger
Nikolai Schukoff, official website

Story: John Preedy

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