MISSION

We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

APPRENTICES RECITAL AT SANTA FE OPERA

Jarrett Logan Porter, Kaitlyn McMonigle, Elliot Paige, and Samantha Gossard (photo by Bobby Gutierrez for Santa Fe Opera)

Bille Bruley and Regina Ceragioli (photo by Bobby Gutierrez for Santa Fe Opera)


One of the very best parts of the Santa Fe experience is attending the Sunday night recitals of the Apprentice Singers. Chosen from among a huge pool of applicants, the current crop includes many young artists whose performances we have enjoyed in New York City, as well as some young artists we are discovering for the first time. Witnessing the artistic growth of the former is our delight; your delight would be catching these emerging talents before they are well known. 

It is astonishing to us that for a paltry $15, one can spend an entire evening in their company, seeing and hearing a well-chosen variety of scenes from all sorts of operas. There is indeed something for everyone, whatever your taste may be. Each scene is assigned to a director and is accompanied by a pianist. Singers who perform in the chorus or in small roles with the major productions here get to be center stage.

We attended the first of these recitals Sunday night and were impressed by a number of young voices. When a singer gets us to relate to an opera we don’t ordinarily favor, we know that something special is happening onstage.  Such was the case when tenor Bille Bruley performed excerpts from Act I of Benjamin Britten’s Billy Budd. His truly remarkable dramatic skills complemented his fine vocalism, first in a scene with superb soprano Regina Ceragioli portraying Ellen Orford and then in a scene with Baritone Kenneth Stavert in the role of Captain Balstrade. Bruley’s exceptionalism was matched by both his scene partners who astonished us with their total immersion in their characters and their connection with Grimes, as well as with the audience.  The stage was bare except for a couple simple props, a wise choice by director Kathleen Clawson. Patrick Harvey did his part as accompanist. Hilary Rubio’s costumes were perfect. We were on the edge of our seat!

Another success of this type was that of Leonard Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti, another work which never held our attention.  In this case, also directed by Ms. Clawson and accompanied in jazzy style by Mr. Harvey, Mezzo-soprano Samantha Gossard did a star turn as Dinah. All eyes were upon her as she described the ridiculous film she had just seen. Her terrific singing was accompanied by some wild and totally appropriate gestures. Preceding her scene, which took place in a bar, we enjoyed the lively trio of waitstaff, portrayed by mezzo-soprano Kaitlyn McMonigle, tenor Elliot Paige, and baritone Jarrett Logan Porter, who sang and danced their way into our heart. We also enjoyed baritone Michael J. Hawk as Sam. Kenan Burchette’s appropriate 1950’s costumes added to the fun.

Another performance that blew us away was that of contralto Leia Lensing who sang the role of Cornelia in Händel’s Giulio Cesare. Her scene partner was mezzo-soprano Hannah Hagerty in the role of Sesto and their parting duet was both effective and affecting. Clinton Smith played Händel’s music with superb style; James Robinson directed the scene with admirable simplicity and James Ramsay Arnold’s costumes were gorgeous.

Hector Berlioz’ Les Troyens has the most luscious love duet between Didon and Énée, so beautifully played by pianist Francesco Milioto, accompanying the beautiful mezzo-soprano  Siena Licht Miller and tenor Terrence Chin-Loy. Magnificently costumed by Brighid DeAngelis with stunning makeup and hair design by Meredith Keister, Ms. Miller delighted both eye and ear. Mr. Chin-Loy sounded superb in the pianissimo passages; we hope he will learn that high doesn’t need to be loud and that floating notes in the upper register is way preferable to pushing them. Director for this scene was Fernando Parra Borti.

Mr. Borti also directed the final scene from Charles Gounod’s Faust. We did not care for the modern touch to the costumes by Rebecca Kendrick. Bass Anthony Robin Schneider in a dinner jacket managed to convey Méphistophélès' menace by means of his voice and presence. Tenor Justin Stolz in disheveled attire successfully colored his voice to reflect his desperate state; soprano Sarah Tucker in her blue prison jumpsuit was highly convincing as a woman gone mad with guilt and remorse. Mathew Mohr’s effective lighting turned the stage golden as she is “saved”.  Clinton Smith accompanied .

We loved Mo Zhou’s direction of the final scene of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore. What an abundance of dramatically valid stage business and believable gesture and facial expression! These touches were so original in their conception and so fine in their execution that we almost lost our focus on the singing! When two young people are meant to be together but are blocked by their individual forms of pride, there is room for all kinds of activity and Ms. Zhou elaboratd every nuance. Of course, she had great material with which to work; soprano Sylvia D’Eramo seemed to be having great fun as Adina and tenor Rafael Moras was completely convincing as the lovelorn Nemorino. We hope he will work on bringing his voice forward, which would bring his vocal performance to the same level as his dramatic performance.  Keun-A Lee accompanied to perfection. Sage Foley’s costume design for Adina was a wedding dress and Nemorino wore a cowboy hat. 

Ms. Zhou’s direction of a scene from Richard Strauss’ Arabella was similarly interesting. We particularly enjoyed the touch of Count Elemer (portrayed in all his arrogant glory by the excellent tenor Jesse Darden) addressing some of his comments about Arabella to the dress form on which was displayed her debutant gown. For us, however, this scene was impaired by being updated to the 1950’s. We almost always want to see operas performed in the original time and place. When the two sisters speak of sleigh rides we have a hard time accepting that they are living in the 1950’s! We do understand the concept of placing the opera in a period in which society women needed to find rich husbands but we can’t imagine 1950’s parents dressing up their younger daughter as a boy because they couldn’t afford two “coming out” parties.

A further problem was the paucity of choices for 1950’s costumes.  Poor soprano Mathilda Edge was obliged to appear in a most unflattering dress; we wonder if she had been in appropriate period attire whether she might have had a better handle on the character of Arabella, which failed to come across. Soprano Jana McIntyre transcended her feminine beauty and appeal to be convincing in the role of the cross-dressing Zdenka, as convincing as the afore-mentioned Mr. Darden. Financially embarrassed and desperate parents were played by bass Anthony Robin Schneider as Baron Waldner with mezzo-soprano Kathleen Felty as his wife Countess Adelaide. Carol Anderson did her best at the piano but we missed Strauss’ lush orchestrations.

We could not make much of the scene from Ricky Ian Gordon’s The Grapes of Wrath. We couldn’t stop thinking that Steinbeck’s moving book did not ask for music, nor did Mr. Gordon provide any. Pianist James Lesniak did his best with the score, as did the large cast of singers, but we love melody and did not hear any. Mezzo-soprano Katherine DeYoung as Ma Joad surmounted the musical deficits with the lovely texture and expressiveness of her instrument and soprano Amy Owen sang sweetly as Rosasharn.  Mackenzie Dunn’s costumes were suitably drab. James Robinson’s direction provided an elevated platform to serve as a truck which held the migrating Joad family, portrayed by Ms. DeYoung, Ms. Owen, Vartan Gabrielian, Benjamin Taylor, Michael J. Hawk, Jarrett Logan Porter, Jesse Darden, and Seiyoung Kim. Bass-baritone Erik van Heyningen appeared as the Inspector who gives the family the good news that they have arrived in California. We cannot fathom why this scene was chosen as it didn’t give any of the men much chance to show off their vocal artistry.

There will be an entirely different program this upcoming Sunday and we recommend the experience wholeheartedly.

(c) meche kroop



Tuesday, August 14, 2018

POVERA BUTTERFLY

Ana Maria Martinez and Joshua Guerrero in the final scene of Madama Butterfly at the Santa Fe Opera
(photo by Ken Howard for Santa Fe Opera)

We have been known to get a bit moist in the eye at the opera, but the last time we were reduced to bawling like a baby was in 2010 when Santa Fe Opera mounted Lee Blakeley's production  of Madama Butterfly. The tall and handsome tenor Brandon Jovanovich towered over the tiny soprano Kelly Kaduce, emphasizing the total imbalance of power in this exploitative relationship between an arrogant American naval lieutenant and an innocent and deluded 15-year-old Japanese geisha. Last night we saw a revival of this production, astutely directed by Matthew Ozawa and we completely "lost it".

With eight years of additional opera going experience, we realized that it was not only the terrific performances that produced such grief but Puccini's music, so affectingly played by the Santa Fe Orchestra under the baton of Maestro John Fiore. The program indicates that we are seeing the Brescia version but we thought we were hearing Puccini's original 1904 version, the La Scala premiere of which was considered so unsuccessful that Puccini revised the opera in many respects. Indeed, there are five iterations extant, but this one is, in our opinion, the most powerful.

Librettists Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa pulled no punches in their depiction of an arrogant sexist American lieutenant, here performed by tenor Joshua Guerrero. He made his character so loathsome that he was booed at the curtain call. There was no doubt that it was the character being booed, and not the performance, which was marked by fine Italianate phrasing and topnotch acting. His "Addio, fiorito asil" was gorgeously sung; if it was meant to evoke sympathy for his remorse, it failed. This character is totally involved with himself and his own feelings with little concern for his abandoned bride.

The role of Cio-Cio-San was magnificently performed by soprano Ana Maria Martinez whose "Un bel di vedremo" deserved all the applause it received. Ms. Martinez is not all that shorter than Mr. Guerrero; nonetheless, her acting achieved the same result as in the benchmark performance that affected us so greatly eight years ago. Some interesting directorial touches evoked the thought that Butterfly's suicide not only represented "death with honor" but also could be perceived as an act of anger, what with all the violently overturned chairs. This amounts to a Westernized psychoanalytic view of suicide. 

Aside from the strength of the depiction of the characters, what makes this version so powerful is the elimination of the intermission between Act II and Act III. Instead, the audience has the opportunity to join Butterfly in the overnight vigil as she waits for Pinkerton. The melancholy "Humming Chorus" sets the stage for our emotional devastation. The feeling of dread mounted in our chest and we felt ourself trembling. The confrontation between Butterfly and the new Mrs. Pinkerton, ably enacted by mezzo-soprano Hannah Hagerty, added to the dread. The sight of little Trouble pointing his dagger at Pinkerton next to the body of his dead mother was one of the most chilling sights we have seen at the opera. His future seems like one more aspect of the tragedy.

Baritone Nicholas Pallesen had the good fortune to portray the wise and kindly U.S. Consul Sharpless. His voice was splendid and his dramatic portrayal was filled with appropriate gesture. The poor man was unable to convince Pinkerton to behave better; nor was he able to reason with Butterfly. We completely believed him in the role.

The other realist of the evening was Suzuki, Butterfly's servant, performed to perfection by the excellent mezzo-soprano Megan Marino. Suzuki knows the score but cannot get Butterfly to face reality. Her loyalty is above reproach and she endures a bit of abuse from the angry Butterfly.

Another powerful performance was that of the angry Bonze, realized by bass Soloman Howard who commanded the stage. Tenor Matthew DiBattista made a very slimy Goro. Baritone Kenneth Stavert played the role of Prince Yamadori without the customary excess of foolishness; this was a fine idea because it emphasized the idea that Butterfly's rejection was based upon her delusion that Pinkerton would return and resume their marriage, not on the idea that Yamadori was a poor choice.

We were delighted to see other Apprentice Singers onstage. Bass-baritone Erik van Heyningen made an excellent Imperial Commissioner, and bass Colin Ramsey was equally fine as the Registrar, both of whom officiated at the marriage. 

Maestro Fiore's conducting presented the music we know and love, along with some music that had been cut when Puccini revised the opera. Puccini successfully combined lyrical Western melodies with Asian folks songs. The chorus, under the direction of Susanne Sheston, sang beautifully and intelligibly, even when offstage.

The set design by Jean-Marc Puissant gave us every possible Japanese signifier including cherry blossoms, lanterns, and shoji panels for Butterfly's home. During the overture, the house itself took shape as panels were carried on and installed. The audience could readily grasp the theme of impermanence. We noticed that the interval of three years was marked by some modernization by way of utility poles with electrical lines. The 20th c. had arrived.

We always have a small quibble and here it has to do with the lighting design of Rick Fisher who missed the chance to show the dawn of which Suzuki sings. The sky never brightened. But the street lights did turn off.

Brigitte Reiffenstuel's costume design was traditional.

This is the Madama Butterfly that we will remember and cherish.  We hope we will not have to wait another eight years to see it again.

(c) meche kroop

Sunday, August 12, 2018

LET'S GET CANDIDE

Leonard Bernstein's Candide at Santa Fe Opera (photo by Ken Howard for Santa Fe Opera)

If you think you've seen and heard Candide, guess again. If you want to experience this brilliant work in all its glory, you'd do well to get yourself to Santa Fe, New Mexico for one of the two final performances of the season.

The success of this production rests on many shoulders. We scarcely know where to begin but Maestro Harry Bicket's superb conducting resulted in applause almost as vociferous as that received by the presence in the audience of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg!  The light-hearted music composed by Bernstein seemed to underscore the dark humor of the book, based on the satirical 18th c. novella written by Voltaire. As in Mozart's music, a melody in a major key may drift momentarily into a minor key; Bicket's attention to these shifts made for a poignant listening experience.

The scholarship of dramaturg Matthew Epstein, Senior Artistic Advisor at Santa Fe Opera, must have involved some intense activity in choosing which scenes and dialogue to include and what to leave out. The work itself began its life in the middle of the 20th c. and was not successful. It took many decades and the inclusion and later exclusion of a parade of lyricists to ensure its ultimate success. The version we saw last night, one of four extant iterations, is the Old Vic version, an expansion for the Scottish Opera of the Hal Prince/Hugh Wheeler version.

This is an exception to the maxim that "too many cooks spoil the broth". Voltaire's novella provides enough material for a variety of treatments. We will not get into a discussion of Candide's fluid identity. We will call it an opera as long as it is presented unamplified. Although we heard this version recently at Carnegie Hall with a fine cast and all the original music, the voices were badly amplified and we missed all the clever lyrics. Last night, the talented cast was quite intelligible and were supported by excellent titles, in case one missed a word.


In this story of innocence betrayed and reality accepted, we are exposed to countless trials and tribulations; we witness the heroes of the story pursuing their ideals and surviving their hardships. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that the public has such affection for the work.

The literary work upon which it is based is Voltaire's 1759 novella, a satiric attack on war, religious persecution, and the positivist philosophy of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz who claimed that whatever happens in this world is divinely ordered and for the best.

What we didn't know was that one of the episodes is based upon true events. In Lisbon, the horrendous death toll of an earthquake resulted in religious persecutions meant to "appease God". Well!  If that doesn't sound like some contemporary stuff going on in the Middle East we will eat the score for breakfast!

If anyone doesn't know the story, it involves the picaresque adventures of an innocent youth named Candide and his beloved Cousin Cunegonde who were tutored by one Dr. Pangloss, a stand-in for Leibniz. The two survive the horrors of war, shipwrecks, deceits and betrayals, as well as the aforementioned auto-da-fe;  they get continually separated and reunited more than once until at the end they decide to have a quiet life with modest pleasures.

Director Laurent Pelly conceived the work in almost cartoon style with highly exaggerated gestures; although we personally did not care for this style, the audience loved it; we do admit that it made the somber end more impactful--kinda like a punch in the gut. There were quite a few moist eyes to be seen and sniffles to be heard.

Pelly's costume designs for the principals were as colorful and sweet as candy. The excellent chorus, comprising Santa Fe Opera Apprentices led by the always wonderful Susanne Sheston, sang clearly, and were dressed in period costumes executed in fabric that emulated printed words on a page. Chantal Thomas' set design was minimalistic but also reflected the work's literary origins. Projections by 59 Productions augmented the simple set.

As the eponymous Candide, tenor Alek Shrader was given several more arias than were assigned to the character in either the Broadway version or the New York City Opera version (both of which we enjoyed). He was convincing in his portrayal and his light tenor was musical throughout; we particularly enjoyed "It must be so".

Soprano Brenda Rae sang and acted up a storm. Cunegonde was never an innocent and Ms. Rae's delivery of "Glitter and Be Gay", one of our favorite coloratura arias, had just the right edge of irony to it.

Jarrett Ott, one of our favorite baritones, has become a regular at Santa Fe Opera; we loved his performance in the role of Maximilian to which he brought his own style ,substance, and wit.

It was very satisfying to witness mezzo-soprano Gina Perregrino, well remembered from Manhattan School of Music and International Vocal Arts Institute, fulfilling the promise we observed over the past six years. Her performance of Paquette was as on-point dramatically as it was vocally.

As The Old Lady, mezzo-soprano Helene Schneiderman tackled this wonderful role with gusto. There were no flaws in her portrayal but there was something about the performance that begged for more presence.  Perhaps it was the costume which failed to limn the character. 

In the customary doubling of roles as the storyteller Voltaire and the character of the indestructible Doctor Pangloss we heard Santa Fe Opera regular Kevin Burdette, whose resonant bass rang out with authority. We didn't even recognize him in the roles of Martin and the slave/valet Cacambo.

Anthony Robin Schneider appeared as the Grand Inquisitor, and also as the Baron with only his face showing through a hole in his portrait. Similarly, Kathleen Reveille's brief appearance as the Baroness was also as a face in her portrait. This same technique was used when The Old Lady arrived in Spain and sang "I am easily assimilated" with her head appearing atop a parade of costumes painted on a board each with different Spanish costumes. In the latter case it was merely distracting

With a couple roles apiece, bass-baritone Erik van Heyningen and tenor Abraham Bretón impressed as the two rivals for Cunegonde's sexual favors; the former portrayed the Cardinal Archbishop of Paris whilst the latter took the role of Don Issachar the Jew.

Tenor Richard Troxell also sang several roles and was so successfully costumed that we didn't recognize him.

It was an altogether stunning Santa Fe Opera premiere and we recommend it highly--not only for Bernstein's magnificent music (Oh how we loved the fugue-like quartet for Candide, Cunegonde, Maximilian, and Paquette!) and the clever lyrics, but also for the highly resonant stance of Voltaire against religious excess, silly philosophies, war, and greed.

(c) meche kroop










Sunday, August 5, 2018

ON HEROES AND MISSING LINKS

Christopher Bozeka, William Lee Bryan, Teresa Castillo, Jennifer Rowley, Derrek Stark, Mingjie Lie, Elena Snow, and Junhan Choi


The hero of Mayr's 1813 opera Medea is Giasone (Jason of the Golden Fleece) and he ain't our idea of a hero at all.  More on that anon. For us, the hero of the evening was Will Crutchfield who has a mission of exploring Bel Canto opera--its traditions, and the radical implications of its history. In this mission, he has introduced us to several barely known and rarely produced operas. This summer he has moved from his lengthy stint at Caramoor to a new home at Purchase College, for a summer festival entitled Teatro Nuovo. 

Last night, his pre-opera lecture filled us in on "the missing link", i.e. how we got from Mozart to Rossini. How did Classical opera become Bel Canto? The question rests on the shoulders of one Giovanni Simone Mayr ( Johannes Simon Mayr in Bavaria). It is a strange mystery how such a seminal character is so ill-known today when he was all the rage in Italy from the end of the 18th c. on. He put down roots in Bergamo and had a three decade career from his initial commission by La Fenice in 1794, receiving commissions from La Scala in Milan and Teatro San Carlo in Naples. His operatic output numbers about 70!

In 1806 he opened a school and gave young Gaetano Donizetti all the knowledge he needed to become the next great star in the operatic firmament. He also had significant influence on Rossini and Bellini. Hearing his opera one was tempted to think he plagiarized them but he came first and his influence on them is clear.

Before Mayr, the tradition of opera seria involved a happy ending in which order is re-established. Was Medea the first serious opera in which people die? Subsequently, serious operas almost always involve death. In Mayr's operas, the number of set pieces is reduced but their development is enhanced by greater length and a variety of sections--recitativ, cantabile, and cabaletta. These tripartite arias now served a dramatic purpose and were no longer fungible. Furthermore, he changed the nature of the recitativi by using the orchestra, rather than the harpsichord as accompaniment. 

The forms he used were Italian but he brought Germanic technique to them by the use of winds and the use of a chorus. Harmonies became more "modern" and orchestral colors became more, well, colorful.

Just as Maestro Crutchfield's lecture enhanced our appreciation of the opera, so did a minimal knowledge of the backstory. The eponymous heroine Medea is one Bad Girl. She has a long history of evil deeds, including murdering her brother. Her love for Jason kept her busy with misdeeds, ensuring his political success.  Jason ain't no prize neither! After all Medea did for him, he has abandoned her and their two sons to enter into matrimony with Creusa, daughter of Creonte.

Guess who comes to spoil the wedding! Yes, it's Medea and she joins forces with Egeo, King of Athens, who has been spurned by Creusa. Hell hath no fury like a pair of scorned lovers acting in concert!

The singing last night was uniformly excellent. Resident Artists who failed to make much of an impression at Tuesday's recital dazzled us on the operatic stage. Guest Artist soprano Jennifer Rowley made a fiery Medea, grasping the audience with her entrance aria and an intense duet with Giasone.  In Act II, when she summons her underworld demons (singing from outside the open side door of the theater) she made our blood run cold. Her revenge aria clearly showed the ambivalence she felt between her maternal instinct and her wish to torment Giasone.

Tenor Derrek Stark made a fine Giasone, even though it seemed unlikely that his fickle romantic history would have made him a suitable husband for a Princess of Corinth! His tone was pleasing, as was his Italianate phrasing and his romantic duet with Creusa was lovely.

Creusa was performed by soprano Teresa Castillo whose performance of a zarzuela aria we just reviewed a few days ago. She showed herself to be an incredibly versatile artist by completely changing the color of her voice to one of melting sweetness.

Tenor Mingjie Lei has a gorgeous instrument and used it well in his portrayal of Egeo. We had a sense that big roles will be coming his way.

Baritone William Lee Bryan sang the role of Creonte, King of Corinth whilst tenor Christopher Bozeka sang the role of Creonte's confidant Evandro. Both were excellent.

There are no small roles, as the say, and we were happy to hear baritone Junhan Choi as Tideo, a friend of Giasone. The role was, we believe, written for the tenor fach, but that seemed to present no problem for Mr. Choi.  Mezzo-soprano Elena Snow also made the most of her portrayal of Medea's friend Ismene.

The Teatro Nuovo Chorus sang well under the direction of Derrick Goff and the Teatro Nuovo Orchestra played Mayr's accessible music with panache. Jonathan Brandani was  Maestro al Cembalo and Jakob Lehmann served as Primo Violino e Capo d'Orchestra. The arrangement of the orchestra was the same as in Tancredi, reviewed last week. The violins could face each other and coordinate their bowing without a conductor on the podium. The period winds and brass were pure delight and we heard some memorable solos from flute and clarinet.

But the most special solo of all was at the beginning of Act II when harpist Frances Duffy delighted our ears with a lengthy onstage solo.

If we were to name one aspect of this melodramma tragico that disappointed, it would be the libretto by the otherwise wonderful Felice Romani, who adapted it from Euripides and Pierre Corneille.  All the action happens offstage and the characters onstage just talk (sing) a lot. Of course, this was his earliest effort, as far as we can determine. He would get better!

(c) meche kroop


Thursday, August 2, 2018

UNA VOZ UN MUNDO

Danza Familia Latina

The people of Guatemala, a country we visited and loved, has suffered some dreadful blows in June and July, from volcanic eruptions to earthquakes. So many worthy organizations have come to the rescue.  Last night, Una Voz, Un Mundo, an organization devoted to humanitarian aid, arts advocacy, and the celebration of cultural diversity, presented a concert in support of the People of Guatemala.

There was something for everyone on the program, from lively colorful folk dancing to zarzuela (YAY!) and opera, not to mention jazz saxophone, and classical piano. There was also some amplified shrieking that hurt our tender ears but on that we will not dwell.

Both accompanist and soloist, Abdiel Vázquez delighted us with "Chopin's D-flat Major Nocturne", followed by a welcome medley of Gershwin tunes.

He accompanied three singers that we greatly enjoyed. Soprano Teresa Castillo put a great deal of her own flirtatious personality into "Carceleras" from Ruperto Chapí's zarzuela-- Las Hijas del Zebedeo. Her bright sound and pleasing vibrato were especially lovely in the vocalise portion. There was another song in Spanish the title of which we did not get, since the program was incomplete.  But it seemed to be about the jungle and the shade--selva y sombra.

We don't hear Spanish music as often as we would wish and hoped that more of the program would be in that beautiful language. We had most of our desires met.

After a fine performance of "Anzoleta avanti la regata" from Rossini's La regata veneziana, the excellent mezzo-soprano Kat Liu delighted us with two Spanish songs by Federico Garcia Lorca--the haunting "Las Morillas de Jaën" and "Los Cuatro Muleros".

Tenor Mario Arévalo, Founder and Artistic Director of Una Voz, Un Mundo, put his powerful voice to good use, first in Carlos Guastavino's melancholy "La Rosa y el Sauce", and then in "Dein ist mein ganzes Herz" from Franz Lehar's Das Land des Lächelns. 

He joined Ms. Castillo for the duet "Tonight" from Bernstein's West Side Story which was, for unknown reasons, as cruelly amplified as the performance of the screaming pop singer. Such attractive and well trained voices do not require amplification which distorted the natural sound of their voices.

There was some jazz saxophone music played by Thomas A. Giles on an alto sax; we liked the piece by Astor Piazzolla but have no idea who arranged it for saxophone; there was an interesting contemporary piece by Antonio Truyols involving tapping on the instrument and rhythmic breathing.

We also heard some original jazz piano music played by Francis Hon entitled "Morningstar"--all of which was quite nice. There was also a poetry reading.  

We would call this a highly entertaining and eclectic evening. We are reminded of a benefit performance given some years ago for the Chilean earthquake which was organized by our friend Kala Maxym, an event which launched our career writing about opera!

Instead of whining about how tragic something is or praying for people, it is a far better thing to do something concrete. All of the artists involved volunteered for this concert and this makes us very very happy and proud of the music community.

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

CANTAMI D'AMORE

Resident Artists of Teatro Nuovo in recital at Purchase College

There are so many superb events taking place at Purchase College this week that we cannot stay away. We loved the Tancredi (scroll down for review) and we are looking forward to this weekend's Medea.  But we also love vocal recitals and always welcome the opportunity to hear singers who are new to us. 

Three of the singers, however, were well known to us.  Mezzo-soprano Madison Marie McIntosh has never disappointed us over a period of about five years and we have been watching her star on the rise with great pleasure; we aver that her success is partly due to consistent devotion to her art and partly due to a mature sense of self and the determination to map and pursue her own course.
Last night, in a program comprising only Italian canzone, she performed a trio of excellent Donaudy songs, two of which we know well ("O del mio amato ben" and "Spirate pur, spirate") and another-- "Tregua non ho"-- which was new to us. They were sung with perfect Italianate phrasing and that rich mezzo we love hearing. The longing for lost love was beautifully conveyed.

Soprano Mary-Hollis Hundley has been on our radar screen for almost as long. Two years ago at the Santa Fe Opera Apprentices Recital, we thrilled to her dignified Countess in Mozart's Nozze di Figaro; we heard her Russian in "Iolanta's Arioso" from the Tchaikovsky opera at the George London Awards Recital; he have seen her perform with Utopia Opera a couple of times.

Last night we enjoyed her duet with the fine tenor Christopher Bozeka in Ciro Pinsuti's "Sovvenir", involving some lovely harmonies. We were not so thrilled with a pair of beloved Tosti songs because she made use of the loathed music stand and failed to connect. 

She was not alone in this detested usage. Several singers created the irritating image of trying to act whilst looking back at the score.  This is just wrong for a song recital and we cannot be persuaded otherwise. Singers! If you want to connect with your audience, take the trouble to learn the score and ditch the music stand. If you don't you run the risk of boring us!

Tenor Mingjie Lei is also known to us for the past five years, first as a student at Manhattan School of Music and then from award recitals of the Licia Albanese Foundation, the Giulio Gari Foundation, and the Gerda Lissner Foundation. One night, his Nemorino was so moving that we ourself suffered from una furtiva lagrima. Last night we only heard one song--"Torna piccina mia"-- by Cesare Andrea Bixio and admired the phrasing and expressive use of dynamics. 

Mezzo-soprano Elena Snow impressed us only when she ditched the music stand for Trindelli's "L'ombra di Carmen" in which the Gypsy Carmen explains herself to Don Jose. What an interesting concept! 

Mr. Bozeka was as fine in his solo--Donaudy's "Vaghissima sembianza"--as in the aforementioned duet. Just imagine the 14-year-old composer creating such compositional beauty! Mr. Bozeka also closed the program with the famous Bixio song which lent its name to the program--"Parlami d'amore, Mariú". The sound is a sweet one! 

An audience favorite was the jazzy Bixio song "Vivere" sung by tenor Derrek Stark whom we heard once with the Palm Beach Opera Young Artists Program.  In the group of Tosti songs, he sang our favorite "L'alba separa dalla luce l'ombra", whilst baritone Junhan Choi won our admiration with "Aprile". Mr. Choi was even better in Mascagni's "Serenata".

William Lee Bryan lent his mellow baritone to Luigi Denza's "Occhi di fata".

It was a great opportunity to hear some little known songs by the 20th c. composer Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari whose Italienisches Liederbuch is very different from that of Hugo Wolf. Five selections were performed by soprano Celeste Godin who imbued these popular Tuscan songs with personality and wry humor.

The accompanist and engaging host for the evening was Timothy Cheung, whom we also remember from our evening with the Palm Beach Opera Young Artists Program.

It was quite a treat to be acquainted with Italian songs performed by young artists! I would call the program "Cantami d'amore".

(c) meche kroop






Sunday, July 29, 2018

TANCREDI AND THE BIRTH OF BEL CANTO

Tamara Mumford as Tancredi

Maestro Will Crutchfield has decamped from Caramoor after twenty years and set up camp as "Teatro Nuovo" at Purchase College, which has given him a compelling Bel Canto Festival to celebrate the type of opera we love the most. We will follow Will wherever he goes and we hope his loyal fans will do likewise. There is a training program attached to this festival and young artists are surely flocking to Purchase to participate.

There is an adventure seeking motive at work in that there are some interesting explorations into performing traditions involved as well as the use of period instruments in the newly formed orchestra. At last night's Tancredi, this newly formed orchestra could have fooled us into believing that they have been around forever. 

Maestro Crutchfield is not only Artistic Director and General Director of the festival but performed at the harpsichord as well, with Jakob Lehmann as Concertmaster, leading the orchestra. We loved the softer sound and craned our neck to get a better look at the unusual woodwinds and brass.

For this year's festival, along with lectures, panel discussions, recitals and master classes, there are two major operatic productions, or should we say two and a half.  We will review a recital on Tuesday and Mayr's Medea in Corinto next weekend. Last night we heard Tancredi which Rossini composed within a month when he was but twenty years old! It was commissioned by La Fenice in 1813.

By that time, he had already written nine operas and had achieved success with the genre of opera buffa, but Tancredi launched his career as a composer of originality, creating works that served as a bridge between the Classical period and the Romantic period. He established the forms that would serve the art form for a century. He moved opera seria into new territory, writing extended duets and choruses which commented on the action. He set up the scena, comprising recitativo-cantilena-cabaletta.  He extinguished the happy ending.

As a matter of fact, the original Tancredi did have a happy ending but Rossini was persuaded to rewrite it in a manner that more accurately reflected Voltaire's 1760 play Tancrède, on which the libretto (by Gaetano Rossi) was based. The "half opera" we mentioned earlier will be presented at the festival on August 5th as Tancredi Rifatto, and includes a wealth of vocal material that Rossini added for various performances, ostensibly to suit the voices of different singers--and also includes the unhappy ending.

Well, you won't hear any objections to happy endings on our part and forgiveness is best appreciated when the one forgiven goes on living, or so we believe.

After incredible popularity in the 19th c. the opera fell out of the repertory but was brought back when Marilyn Horne chose to champion it. (Thank you Jackie!)

The opera takes place in the 11th c. in Sicily where the Byzantine Empire is threatened by the Saracens. Our hero Tancredi had been exiled as a child and you, dear reader, will recognize the prototype of the "outsider" as one of the great contributions of the Romantic period.

He is loved by Amenaide, the daughter of Argirio, a nobleman who has just achieved a truce with Orbazzano, a nobleman of another faction. He is marrying off his daughter to Orbazzano to cement the truce, but she isn't having any of it.

The plot thickens because a letter she wrote to Tancredi has fallen into the wrong hands and she is suspected of writing to the Saracen leader, an act of treason punishable by death. Although he is feeling betrayed, Tancredi engages in single combat with Orbazzano, her accuser, and saves her.

In the title role we heard mezzo-soprano Tamara Mumford, of whom we have been a fan since hearing her in a recital at the Metropolitan Museum, before we even started writing. We enjoyed her performance at The Metropolitan Opera as Smeaton and her performance at Caramoor as well. There is no denying her vocal artistry and distinctive sound. For us, the highlight of the evening was her delivery of "Di tanti palpiti". There are echoes of this melody in Wagner's Die Meistersinger.

As Amenaide, soprano Amanda Woodbury made a strong impression, handling Rossini's lavish fioritura with aplomb and conveying a sense of the character's challenging predicament. She was as splendid in her duets as in her arias.

As her father Argirio, we heard tenor Santiago Ballerini tear into Rossini's challenging vocal fireworks like a hot knife through butter. Small in stature but large in vocal gifts, this is a tenor to watch. His Act II scena beautifully expressed his ambivalence about signing his daughter's death warrant. There is something about his decrescendo that astonished us; he spun the vocal line out to the finest filament.

Bass-baritone Leo Radosavljevic, whom we well remember from Juiliiard and several vocal competition award recitals, did justice to the role of Orbazzano, making his sound burly in times of anger. He's a man who just can't believe that his intended has other intentions.

Mezzo-soprano Hannah Ludwig was excellent as Amenaide's chief support Isaura. We loved the way she stood up for her friend.  Similarly, mezzo-soprano Stephanie Sanchez excelled as Roggiero, Tancredi's esquire.

As far as semi-staged operas go, we were happy that the entire cast was "off book" (except for the excellent Teatro Nuovo Chorus) but we really missed sets and costumes. We were hoping for some projections that would suggest time and place and some simple costumes. Instead, we had a bare stage with female singers wearing gowns and male singers in dinner jackets. At the very least, we wished that the two women performing pants roles had abandoned high heels. It's one thing for Isaura to totter around the stage but Tancredi and Roggiero should have been wearing boots. It's difficult to walk like a man wearing high heels!

And that is the only quibble we have with a superb production that gave us insight into the birth of Bel Canto and an enduring ear worm of "Di tanti palpiti" which we have been singing all night.

The Bel Canto Festival will continue until August 5th and Purchase is but an hour away. Consult their website and pick something.  Pick anything! You won't be disappointed.

(c) meche kroop