Andrey Nemzer's big sound lands him a prestigious honor
Last Sunday might have been one of the biggest days in Andrey Nemzer's life, but this week, he returned to the routines of his life in Pittsburgh. He studied. He taught. And, above all, he sang.
Nemzer was named one of the winners of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions after the Grand Finals concert Sunday in New York City. It is one of the most prestigious musical competitions in the world. The five winners receive $15,000.
Nine singers competed at the concert, each performing two arias. Nemzer, a countertenor, had the final slot on each half of the concert. He sang an aria from George Frideric Handel's "Giulio Cesare" before intermission and one from Michail Glinka's "Russlan and Ludmilla" at the end.
Nemzer was the first to be named a winner, which was greeted by a roar of approval from the audience, according to Anita S. Dacal, who runs the Pittsburgh District of the National Council Auditions.
"It was amazing. I was very, very, very honored," Nemzer says.
"I was not expecting that ovation and applause for the Handel aria. It is very beautiful and technical. It is very angry," he says. "I was expecting the audience to be very excited by the second aria I sang. It is very bright, very different from the first aria. There is one part where I invented a cadenza that goes to a B flat on top. Not many countertenors go that high, and I thought it would produce an audience reaction."
Nemzer, 29, moved to Pittsburgh in 2010, when he was awarded a scholarship and teaching assistant's position at the Mary Pappert School of Music at Duquesne University, where he is working on an artist diploma in music performance.
"He has a beautiful sound. It's really very voluptuous, a big sound not characteristic of countertenors," his teacher Claudia Pinza says. Now in her 80s, she still teaches at Duquesne and at the University of Pittsburgh. This summer, she will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Ezio Pinza Council for American Singers of Opera, which she founded in honor of her father.
"When I first heard him, he was good, but we've been working, and he's gotten much, much better," she says. "He's a wonderful musician. He loves to study. He listens to me. He enjoys working, and I enjoy him very much."
Not that Nemzer's talent has been cloistered in Pittsburgh. He sings with the Mendelssohn Choir. He won the Mildred Miller International Voice Competition in October and will be featured at Opera Theater Pittsburgh's summer season. And he had a solo in the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra's dramatic presentation of George Frideric Handel's "Messiah" in December.
Pittsburgh Opera's general director Christopher Hahn has heard Nemzer sing in Pittsburgh, and is impressed.
"He's got really great range, and the voice is beautiful and full. Always in a countertenor sound, you want body and colors and not necessarily the thinner or white sound associated with church singers. He has all of that," Hahn says. "There are textures and colors in the sound all the way up and down. He has exceptional coloratura, very impressive, quick and accurate. What he produces is very intriguing, compelling and communicative to the audience."
His upcoming local performances include a solo with the Mendelssohn Choir on Sunday at East Liberty Presbyterian Church and a public recital April 15 at Duquesne as part of his degree requirements.
The singer was born in Moscow, and studied piano and clarinet when he was young. He began choral singing when he was 6, and a year later, entered Moscow Choir College. In 2000, he graduated from the college and entered the Moscow Academy of Choral Art as a tenor.
As a boy, he had sung alto and tenor, but becoming an adult countertenor happened virtually by chance. He had come to Pittsburgh to visit his friend Preston Showman, who is the organist at Third Presbyterian Church, Shadyside. One day, when Showman had to be at church all day, Nemzer went along and brought a score of Handel songs to try out. He found they were too low for tenor voice.
"I thought, what if, for fun, I tried tossing them off as a lady," which meant transposing them up to alto range, where countertenors live.
"It sounded good, so I tried the 'Pie Jesu' from Maurice Durufle's "Requiem," one of my favorite pieces with organ," he says. "My friend said it sounded fabulous. I thought about it for a couple days and decided to try it. So, this fun became the victory at the Metropolitan Opera. I cannot believe it myself. Something happened at that time, like God directed me."