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.

Saturday, March 25, 2017


Errin Brooks and Kelly Griffin in New Amsterdam Opera's production of La Forza del Destino

How long we have yearned to hear Verdi's La Forza del Destino! Is it rarely performed because the roles are difficult to cast? Or does it have something to do with the superstition that surrounds it, much like Shakespeare's so-called "Scottish play" the name of which actors are reluctant to pronounce. We are happy to report that New Amsterdam Opera succeeded without any mishaps of which we are aware. The audience filled The Riverside Theatre and the applause was thunderous.

Artistic Director Keith Chambers conducted a pick-up orchestra which he pulled together quite well with only a few rough patches that were easy to overlook. But we could not overlook the fortuitous "flutery" of Rosa Jang and the happy "harpery"of Melanie Genin. Both were outstanding in their contributions. The overture is a masterpiece with one memorable theme following another. The initial "fate" theme is propulsive and highly rhythmic. Then along comes a sorrowful one, a lyrical one, a heraldic one, and a playful one. Although the 1869 opera is rarely performed, the overture is a concert staple.

New Amsterdam Opera aims to give young singers the opportunity to perform a role before a live audience in concert version. When one hears young singers eight nights a week one gets to recall quite a bit about them and to form a well-rounded picture of where their strengths and weaknesses lay and how they are growing.

For example, Kelly Griffin, the dramatic soprano who sang Leonora was possibly one of Daniel Cardona's "discoveries" about 3 years ago when she bowled us over with....(you guessed it, didn't you?)..."Pace, pace mio Dio". We heard her sing it again a few months ago; she has grown into the entire role and performed it with passion and intensity, well served by her generous instrument, which has an agreeable vibrato.

Her lover Don Alvaro was sung by Errin Brooks whose sizable tenor won him the Wagnerian prize from the George London Foundation. This is one of those huge voices that will take awhile to bring under control and fulfill its promise. In Act I, although we could understand every word of his Italian, he sang the line unmusically, as if it were English. As the evening progressed he did remember his legato and needed only to lighten up. He tends to emphasize volume and thereby squelches the overtones we want to appreciate in the tenor instrument. He would do well to bring his voice forward and to avoid pushing.

We loved the performance of mezzo-soprano Janara Kellerman as the gypsy Preziosilla. We have previously enjoyed her as Santuzza. This is an artist who throws herself into a role and clearly enjoys herself, seeming effortlessly.  Her "Rataplan" was a delightfully light moment in a heavy opera; she is urging the Spaniards to throw off the Austrian yoke. How Verdi must have loved that theme!

Leonora's brother Don Carlo was excellently sung by the polished Verdi baritone Stephen Gaertner whom we last heard at Lauren Flanigan's Comfort Ye recital. His duets with Mr. Brooks' were highlights of the evening. He was out to kill Don Alvaro but, unwittingly the two men became military buddies until their true identities were discovered.  Uh-oh!

Leonora's father the Marquis was sung by bass Hidenori Inoue whom we greatly enjoyed as Don Pasquale at The Manhattan School of Music this season.  His character got killed off in Act I and we were sorry not to hear any more of him! But we will surely hear a lot more of him in the future, since his bass is fully mature and ready for so many roles, needing only costuming and makeup to age him. 

We also liked Stefan Szkafarowsky, the bass cast as Padre Guardiano, the abbot of the monastery that gives Leonora a secret dwelling to hide from the cruel world. He sang his role with a nice legato and secure presence. The irritable Fra Melitone was sung by bass-baritone Daniel Klein whose over-the-top acting impressed us more than his grainy voice. It is rare for a singer to show so much acting chops in a concert performance!

Veteran tenor Robert Brubaker sang the role of Trabuco.  How well we remember his performance as Anna Nicole's husband in the opera of the same name, and his performance as Herod in Salome at the Santa Fe Opera.

Mezzo-soprano Melissa Serluco appeared briefly as Leonora's maid. We enjoyed her performance not too long ago as Dorothee, one of Cinderella's step-sisters in the Utopia Opera production of Massenet's Cendrillon.

And finally, we were introduced to a new voice, lyric baritone Wil Kellerman who nicely filled the roles of the Alcade (Mayor) and that of the surgeon who decides that the hero will survive his injuries.  We hope to hear more of him.

And we hope that some opera company in NYC will decide to produce this outstanding opera in a full production.  Hint, hint!

(c) meche kroop

Friday, March 24, 2017


Michal Biel, Cody Quattlebaum, Chris Reynolds, and Samantha Hankey

Juilliard Vocal Arts Honors Recitals are always a treat. Singers are nominated by their voice teachers and then audition for a panel of judges. One of the judges for this recital was Paul Appleby and if anyone knows what makes a good recitalist it is he. The interesting feature of these recitals is that the singers select their own program, presumably with the help of their respective pianists. Sometimes one hears rarely heard masterpieces.

The first half of the program was given to notable bass-baritone Cody Quattlebaum whom we have so greatly enjoyed on the operatic stage. Those who thrilled to his Figaro and his Mephistopheles at the Metropolitan Opera National Council Finals last Sunday would have been astonished last night with his artistry and versatility as a song recitalist.

Although we adore the Ravel cycle Don Quichotte a Dulcinee,  Jacques Ibert composed his own cycle in 1931, three years before Ravel composed his.  We were thrilled to be introduced to Chansons de Don Quichotte; they are not better but they are surely equal in value. Mr. Quattlebaum performed them in perfect French with sonorous vocalism and heightened dramatic impact.

It seems a paradox but Mr. Quattlebaum's tone can be exciting and soothing at the same time--and always pleasing to the ear. There is a marvelous vibrato at the lower end of the register and his voice expanded to fill Alice Tully Hall. The first song, "Chanson du depart de Don Quichotte" set text by Pierre de Ronsard and the other three songs set text by Alexandre Arnoux.  There is a prominent vocalise in "Chanson a Dulcinee" which Mr. Quattlebaum enjoyed as much as we did. He assumed a different persona for "Chanson du duc" and exhibited a vastly different vocal color for "Chanson de la mort de Don Quichotte" that moved us deeply. We particularly liked the dynamic variety from pp to ff.

Collaborative pianist Michal Biel was right with him all the way, as he was for the subsequent Drei Lieder nach Gedichten von Michelangelo by Hugo Wolf. His piano echoed the singer's powerful presence and established a feeling of portent. The performance was superb but they will never be among our favorite songs, nor will Wolf's setting of Goethe's "Grenzen der Menschheit" which achieved stunning intensity. There was a tender passage that moved us however, and Mr, Quattlebaum's German was as fine as his French.

The final set comprised Cuatro Canciones sobre Textos Gallegos by Anton Garcia-Abril, a 20h c. Spanish composer and musician who is best known for composing sound tracks for movies, especially "spaghetti Westerns". His cycle was uncharacteristically melodic, both in the vocal line and in the piano writing. We enjoyed it for its accessibility and the pleasing sound of Spanish which Mr. Quattlebaum handled as well as the French and German.

The second half of the evening was performed by mezzo-soprano Samantha Hankey, a highly musical artist whom we keep liking more and more every time we hear her.  It has been only four days since she won the Met National Council Award with some marvelous Mozart and terrific Tchaikovsky. What impressed us most about last night's performance was how well she used her body to underscore the feeling of the song--something that had not struck us previously.

We have always perceived her, however, as centered and poised, making ample use of vocal color to convey the feeling of the text. Her voice literally soared in Franz Liszt's settings of Goethe's text and her expressiveness achieved new heights. It was quite a coincidence that she sang a wide selection of Robert Schumann's Ruckert lieder, several of which we reviewed last night, sung by soprano Miah Persson. It was fascinating to hear the subtle differences in interpretation. 

We particularly enjoyed "Der Himmel hat eine Trane geweint" in which an oyster captures a tear from heaven and creates a pearl which it shelters. The metaphor of pain and desire was beautifully expressed. Another favorite was the ecstatic "Widmung".

When Ms. Hankey sang "Aus den ostlichen Rosen" we could see and smell the roses; the piano of Chris Reynolds conveyed all the sweetness of the sentiment. In "Flugel! Flugel!" Ms. Hankey's voice soared along with Icarus' flight.  It is a lengthy song and offered many opportunities for variations in color. Mr. Reynold's turbulent piano conveyed the fall of Icarus with profound anguish. 

A half dozen songs by Richard Strauss brought the splendid recital to a fine close. Everyone remarks about Strauss' writing for the soprano but we had no problem with Ms. Hankey taking on these songs. The messa di voce in "Waldseligkeit" was delicate and Mr. Reynold's piano limned the rustling of the leaves.

We particularly enjoyed the light-hearted "Einerlei" in which the lover confronts the paradox of familiarity and novelty.  In "Schlechtes Wetter", Ms. Hankey told a tender tale whilst Mr. Reynold's piano let fly with a storm.

If we were to add one element to these excellent recitals it would be the projection of titles. Not everyone in the audience speaks all those language and looking down at the translations in the program takes one away from the immediacy of the experience.  The four artists onstage merited our full attention.

(c) meche kroop

Thursday, March 23, 2017


Malcolm Martineau and Miah Persson at Zankel Hall (photo by Fadi Kheir)

What is a recitalist to do when her vocal partner becomes indisposed?  Soprano Miah Persson was scheduled to give a recital with baritone Florian Boesch who was indisposed. We were not there behind the scenes to tell you how it went but we were in the audience in Zankel Hall and witnessed the end result. There was a revision in the program and in exchange for what we missed, we heard a lovely program from soprano Miah Persson who looks as beautiful as she sounds. One is not supposed to notice things like a singer's physical beauty but we confess it certainly adds to the experience.

Ms. Persson focused her program on songs by Schumann and was able to perform Frauenliebe und Leben in its entirety, a far better enterprise than singing excerpts. We love this cycle and never tire of it. We are always tuning our ears into the changes in a woman's life cycle and if Adalbert von Chamiso's text sounds sexist in our day and age, we care not a whit. It is fine for us to recognize how women's lives have changed and if 19th c. women derived their sense of self from the man that chose them, well, that's okay with us.

What we do miss, however, is what happened between the birth of the subject's baby and the husband's death.  Perhaps he died prematurely but, never mind, it's a wonderful cycle and we hope we never have to hear it sung by a man!  (LOL). Last night, Ms. Persson gave it all she had, and what she had was substantial. She captured the bedazzlement of a young woman meeting someone considered beyond her reach; she limned the incredulity of being chosen; she illustrated the call to maturity brought upon by her engagement followed by the excitement of the wedding which she shared with her sisters, whose childhood games she would leave behind.

Pregnancy brought new joys and the ecstasies of motherhood were beautifully captured; we cannot recall a more authentic performance of the phrase "Du lieber, lieber Engel, du, Du schauest mich an und lachelst dazu!" but it sounded so real that we wondered whether Ms. Persson has experienced motherhood herself.  Likewise, we felt all the mixed emotions one feels when a life partner dies--there is anger at being abandoned, mixed with the grief of loss, and the feeling that life (at least as one knows it) has ended.  Ms. Persson's effective coloring succeeded in showing the subject's maturation.

For us, this performance was the highlight of the evening and we greatly admire the manner in which Mr. Martineau gently supported the vocal line and the pathos of the postlude in which he repeats the melody of the first song "Seit ich ihn gesehen". Mr. Martineau has soft hands and a light touch; he is the perfect partner for Ms. Persson. His superb playing never ever upstages the singer and it is only when one submits to the mood of the song that one realizes the magnitude of his selfless contribution. Fortunately, Mr. Martineau had a solo on the program--Schumann's "Traumerei"--in which the silences spoke as effectively as the notes. We have noticed that in singers but rarely in the piano.

There were other wonderful Schumann songs. We particularly enjoyed the ethereal "Mondnacht" with Joseph von Eichendorff's evocative text; Mr. Martineau's prelude and interludes painted some exquisite aural pictures. Friedrich Ruckert's text for "Schneeglockchen" evoked a completely different but charming vision--that of the floral herald of Spring. Schumann had a real feel for Ruckert but Eduard Morike's "Er ist's" filled us with a similar but more passionate anticipation of Spring.

Ruckert's "Der Himmel hat eine Trane geweint" filled us with wonder and also makes us wonder why today's poets are producing such unlikeable poetry, leading to such unappealing settings! We also loved the charming "O ihr Herren" in which a poet, symbolized by a nightingale, seeks a quiet corner for his songs.

Robert's wife Clara appeared on the program as well with the passionate "Er ist gekommen" and the gentle strophic song "Liebst du um Schonheit". Although Mahler set the same text so beautifully, Clara's setting owes no one an apology. The melody remains in one's memory and pleases enormously.

Robert Schumann also set texts by Goethe and his music for "Nachtlied" amplifies the concise but pungent text. 

Mary Stuart's words written prior to her death (translated into German by Gisbert Freiherr von Vincke) did not thrill us like the rest of the program. It was a grim way to end such a glorious recital and we were quite relieved by the beautiful encore which we believe was Edvard Grieg's "Jeg elsker dig" and which we believe was sung in Danish. Please overlook our inability to distinguish one Scandinavian language from another! In any event it lifted our sunken spirits.

As one may have expected from a Swedish soprano, there were six additional songs by the Norwegian Grieg on the program. Grieg was influenced by Schumann and had a vast output, although there are only a handful performed regularly on recital programs. We favored the delightful "Lauf der Welt", sung in German, with Mr. Marineau's frisky piano adding to the fun. Grieg wrote for his wife Nina and the ecstatic "Ein traum" is one of those thrilling songs that deals with love fulfilled.

Fulfilled might be the best word to describe how we felt at the conclusion of this fine recital. If we have failed to mention Ms. Persson's pleasing instrument and her musical phrasing, it is because we were most taken by her artistry as an interpreter.

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, March 22, 2017


The talented crew from Heartbeat Opera

There are two kinds of people on Planet Opera--the people who make it happen and the people who support them.  Before we brought our own website into being we wrote reviews for The Opera Insider which aimed to provide a forum for both populations to exchange ideas.  The Opera Insider is no more but we still relish the opportunity to mingle with and exchange ideas with young artists.  Last night at the stunning sky-high apartment of Jill Steinberg (an artist herself in the field of interior design) we got a more intimate look at one of our favorite small companies--Heartbeat Opera.

This is Heartbeat Opera's third season and they have distinguished themselves by their unique approach of including visual artists right from the very start. This team approach is all-encompassing and amounts to a 21st c. version of Richard Wagner's gesamtkunstwerk. Anyone who attends one of their productions is destined to become a loyal fan. We well recall our first exposure to Heartbeat Opera. It was Jacques Offenbach's Daphnis and Chloe and it impressed us with its imaginative staging as well as fine singing. 

Since then we have seen all of their productions and always recognize a special spark that brings the work into the 21st c. without betraying the intentions of the composer and librettist. This is exactly what it takes to bring opera into the entertainment sphere of young people. Affordable tickets and stimulating productions ensure a new young audience.

Last night's soiree introduced a select audience to the fine work of Heartbeat Opera and also introduced two female stars who will be appearing in the Spring Season. If these two young women did not knock your socks off, you must have been barefoot to start out with! Sichel Claverie absolutely sizzled as the gypsy heroine Carmen from the Bizet opera of the same name. Banlingyu Ban touched our heart as Cio-cio San in "Un bel di" from Puccini's Madama Butterfly.

These two operas are favorites that have become cliches. But in the hands of Co-Artistic Directors Louisa Proske and Ethan Heard we feel confident in expecting a fresh look at both and we feel equally confident in urging our readers to get their tickets early before they are gone. We hate to see opera-lovers disappointed.

There was plenty more entertainment last night. Ms. Ban treated us to a very sexy "Meine Lippen sie kussen so heiss" from Franz Lehar's Giuditta and then Ms. Claverie  dazzled us with "Carceleras" from Ruperto Chapi's zarzuela, Las Hijas del Zebedeo which she performed with extra sazon.

There was also a lovely performance of Elgar's "Capricieuse" perfomed by Jacob Ashworth on the violin and Lee Dionne on the piano.

So far, half of the funds needed for the Spring season (May 20-28) have already been raised and if you have been looking for an opportunity to make a difference on Planet Opera, now's your chance to support a daringly innovative company.  It sure beats banging your head on a wall trying to change the current abhorrent political situation.  Make a difference!

And don't forget to read the enthusiastic article in Opera News!

(c) meche kroop

Monday, March 20, 2017


2017 Finalists in Met National Council Competition (photo by Fay Fox)

In our eyes and to our ears, these are all winners. Several of them have been followed by us for some time and garnered our appreciation for their growth as artists. Others were new to us at the Semi-Finals.  Of course readers can readily learn which six of the nine semi-finalists the judges chose, but you won't learn that here. Our aim is to share our experience of the actual performances and that is exactly what we will do. Frankly, it felt quite uncomfortable to call six out of nine "winners". The other three are anything but "losers". Some of the nine artists are fully stage-ready.

We have heard tenor Kyle van Schoonhoven perform Peter Grimes' "Mad Scene" from the Britten opera at least twice before we heard it today but this was the first time we heard it with full orchestra. It was disturbing in a very good way; we felt such sympathy for the character's distress; this was a man pushed to the limits.  It was a shattering performance. Mr. van Schoonhoven also performed Rienzi's prayer from the Wagner opera and we could see some Siegfried in his future.

Another artist who is complete in his stage-worthiness is countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen, whom we have heard on a couple occasions. His penetrating sound falls nicely on the ear and his dramatic interpretation of the lost refugee from Jonathan Dove's Flight  was chilling and also disturbing. It is significant that these two young singers made such an impression on us, since we have never had much interest in English language opera. It reminds us of a great chef who can cook a dish you usually won't eat and you wind up loving it!  Mr. Cohen's other selection was from Handel's Rodelinda and his plangent quality was enhanced by an affecting messa di voce and some stunning embellishments in the ritornello.

Mezzo-soprano Samantha Hankey has a very centered stage presence that allows her beautiful voice to reach out unencumbered by flashy theatrics. She controlled the dynamics and the dramatics equally well in "Parto, parto" from Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito. She built the aria from a quiet place and let loose with a stunning crescendo on "Guardami, guardami".  Her perfect technique carried through in her performance of "Da chas nastal" from Tchaikovsky's Maid of Orleans, making us put this opera on our wish list. She brought this aria to a fiery climax.

Ms. Hankey will be singing this Thursday at the Juilliard Vocal Arts recital along with bass-baritone Cody Quattlebaum who impressed us yesterday with his ability to create compelling characters. He was a fine Figaro, ready to match wits with the Count Almaviva in "Se vuol ballare" from the Mozart opera Nozze di Figaro; he exhibited devilish glee in "Vous qui faites l'endormie" from Gounod's Faust. Along with his superb vocal gift, Mr. Quattlebaum's command of the stage and dramatic ability have always impressed us, and we are looking forward to Thursday's recital which you will surely read about here.

Soprano Vanessa Vasquez always turns in a meaningful performance and lets us see the world through her character's eyes. With beautiful tone, she disappeared into Cio-Cio San, wishfully seeing Pinkerton's ship pulling into the harbor in "Un bel di" from Puccini's Madama Butterfly. Her scene from Act I of Verdi's La Traviata was so intense that the audience erupted into applause prematurely. She was unperturbed and shone in the cabaletta.

Soprano Kirsten MacKinnon gave an emotional performance of "Otchego eto prezhde ne znala" ("Why haven't I known this before") from Tchaikovsky's Iolanta, an aria which we have only heard once--onstage at the Met. She sang with lovely tone and a keen control of dynamics. Her second aria was "Ah, je ris de me voir" from Faust and generated considerable excitement, both vocally and dramatically.

Gabriella Reyes de Ramirez performed "Il est doux, il est bon" from Massenet's Herodiade. Her splendid soprano instrument has a fine vibrato and we heard some gorgeous notes at the top of the register. The second aria she chose is not well known but we were fortunate enough to have heard New York City Opera's production of Daniel Catan's compelling opera Florencia en el Amazonas. We thought she did justice (and then some) to "Cristobal, Es esta luz la muerte?"

Soprano Natalie Image has a voice much larger than her petite frame would suggest. She exhibited a nicely focused sound and a winning flirtatious personality in the Snow Maiden's Aria from the Rimsky-Korsakov opera--another opera that is unknown to us but which is also going on our wish list. Ms. Image has the talent for getting a song across, as she also did in her other selection "O luce di quest'anima" from Donizetti's Linda di Chamounix with its dazzling coloratura. We always enjoy a good trill!

Tenor Richard Smagur performed two selections in French with a solid technique. We heard "La fleur que tu m'avais jetee" from Bizet's Carmen and "Pourquoi me reveiller" from Massenet's Werther, which we just heard at the Met with Isabel Leonard and Vittorio Grigolo. Mr. Smagur is like a finely cut gem that needs some polishing to reveal its beauty. The polishing we hope he receives consists of loosening up physically so that his body goes along with the wonderful feeling in his voice.  We want convincing characterizations on the opera stage.

The nine gifted singers we heard were culled from 1200 applicants in 42 cities around the USA, Canada, and Puerto Rico. Gracious and gorgeous superstar Renee Fleming was hostess for the evening and paid tribute to all the volunteers who donate time and funding to make the Met National Council Auditions happen. They surely deserve the credit and the nine finalists who climbed the ladder of selection are destined for fine careers. We wish them all well. The average audience member never realizes just how hard these young artists work to achieve these dizzying heights.

While waiting for the judges to make their decision, we were treated to performances by three winners from ten years ago. Tenor Michael Fabiano sang "Oh! fede negar potesssi...Quando le sere al placido", Rodolfo's lament from Verdi's Luisa Miller.

Soprano Amber Wagner, who will perform a recital at the Morgan Library next Sunday under the auspices of the George London Foundation, sang "Es gibt ein Reich". Her generous instrument seems made for Strauss and we hope we will get more of it next week.

Mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton is simply a force of nature and her unique and powerful instrument always astonishes us. She sounds like no one else; we hope it is not sacrilege to say that we think of a chocolate stout filling our mouth and dizzying our head. She performed an intoxicating version of "Acerba volutta, dolce tortura", sung in Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur by the jealous Princess de Bouillon. WOW!

What an incredible afternoon, thanks to the Metropolitan National Council! Let us also credit Nicola Luisotti for his superb conducting.


Sunday, March 19, 2017


Ken Noda and Hyesang Park

It was a cold and nasty late winter day outside, but inside the vast St. Michael's Church on the Upper West Side, Spring was in the air and in the ear. Ushering in the delights of the upcoming Spring was star soprano Hyesang Park with the incredibly sensitive accompaniment of Ken Noda. The occasion was a Neighborhood Concert produced by the Weill Music Institute of Carnegie Hall in partnership with St. Michael's church. The concert is part of the Marilyn Horne Legacy at Carnegie Hall, and the divine Ms. Horne was in the audience for this very special event.

We have reviewed Ms. Park over a half dozen times (all reviews archived) and fell all over ourselves the first time we heard her in 2013. But she just keeps getting better and better, even when there seems to be no room for improvement. Her instrument is bright but never shrill; her technique is flawless; but it is something else that draws the listener in, as if the fragrance of a rose slipped around your heart.  To hear her is to love her. Her voice is like a bell that summons one away from whatever dark place you may have been stuck in.

Perhaps the rose analogy came out of the gorgeous rose-colored gown she wore but there is no denying that her inner beauty, revealed when she modestly addressed the audience, informs everything she sings. We don't know of another singer who can close her eyes in rapture without losing contact with the audience. 

We have been most familiar with her bel canto roles and a Mozart concert aria.  Yesterday's recital revealed a number of other aspects to her versatility. Our companion, fluent in both French and German, agreed with our high opinion of Ms. Park's linguistic skills. We can attest to her authenticity in Spanish.

The program opened with Joaquin Rodrigo's Cuatro madrigales amatorios, four memorably tuneful songs of widely divergent moods; the mournful "Con que la lavare" and the teasing "De donde venis, amore?" were our two personal favorites. These songs are heard frequently on recital programs but Ms. Park made them fresh and new.

Also in Spanish were three selections from Enrique Granados' Canciones amatorias, with which we were unfamiliar. In these, Mr. Noda's collaborative piano was outstanding. He always impresses us with his profound involvement with the singer and the two of them made marvelous music together.

Clara Schumann's songs deserve to be on more recital programs and we were happy to hear five of them, all sung with superlative German diction and a remarkable depth of feeling. Mrs. Schumann's song output was certainly overshadowed by her husband's but she was no minor talent! Just hear her setting of "Liebst du um Schonheit", the Ruckert text that was famously set by Gustav Mahler!

We have often heard the vocalise of Heitor Villa-Lobos' Bachianas brasileiras No. 5. When Ms. Park sang it, our thought was "Angels can speak without words".  We cannot recall ever hearing the beautiful text about nightfall. Ms. Park handled the vocalise, the text, and the humming section with equal skill. We are not familiar with Portuguese but we shall assume that it was perfect.

Poulenc seemed to favor surrealistic texts to which we have trouble relating; however, Ms. Park's dramatic gifts allowed us the illusion that we understood! Now that is a strange phenomenon. She captured a sort of cabaret feeling to them without depriving them of their seriousness. We particularly enjoyed "Paganini" from Metamorphoses and the pictorial "C" from Deux poemes de Louis Aragon. The ironic "Fetes galantes" was performed at rapid-fire speed without missing a single syllable.

It is a courageous act for a Korean woman to sing Tosti songs, usually best sung by an Italian tenor breathing garlic into every phrase. We go on record here as saying that Ms. Park did them justice, even bringing something new to them. In "Aprile", she painted an aural picture of Spring along with Mr. Noda's lilting arpeggios. "L'ultima canzone" was so heartbreaking we could scarcely breathe. (We managed to make a one minute video which you can find on our Facebook page Voce di Meche.) The joyful "Marechiaro" was sung in accurate dialect.  We loved every moment.

Ms. Park closed the program with a lovely setting of the 23rd Psalm by N. Unyoung. Although religious music is not our favorite, the words are in Korean and Ms Park sang from the depths of her soul. It is clear from what place she derives spiritual sustenance, the more power to her.

As encore, she offered "O, mio babbino caro" from Giacomo Puccini's Gianni Schicchi. As the true artist she is, Ms. Park made this oft-heard aria completely her own.  She made the church her own.  She made the audience her own. This beautiful young woman is destined for stardom on the world's stages; and she deserves it!

(c) meche kroop


Saturday, March 18, 2017


Participants in Emmanuel Villaume Master Class at Juilliard (photo by Michael DiVito)

Thursday's Master Class at Juilliard was unusual and unforgettable. Most master classes involve a single singer getting coached in the finer points of song interpretation. The class conducted by Maestro Emmanuel Villaume (through the Ellen and James S. Marcus Institute for Vocal Arts and the Collaborative Piano Departments at Juilliard) involved three duets and one ensemble. As one might have expected, the charmingly Gallic maestro worked exclusively in French.

Apparently, he had already worked with this select group of students, all graduate students, because they sounded just terrific before their coaching. That being said, each pair reached a new level of artistry within their strictly allotted half hour. The progress was remarkable. Maestro Villaume has a profound understanding of each character, as much as any director; but he fosters characterological authenticity within the musical context. Show me anyone else who achieves this depth!

In general, he likes to play with the concept of tension and release in the vocal line. He urged the students to find reasons for the silences between phrases by focusing on the thoughts the character might be having. He advised the students to listen to each other, which, we imagine, is even more difficult than it is in the theater, given that there are so many other things with which to be concerned.

Two coaching sessions involved Georges Bizet's masterpiece Carmen, a masterpiece which the composer thought was a failure when he died, never knowing that it would achieve the position of the most-produced opera ever. We had tenor Alexander McKissick as Don Jose in the Act I duet with Micaela, portrayed by soprano Maria Fernanda Brea, accompanied by Michael Biel. 

They worked effectively on character. Don Jose is happy to see her but rather ambivalent in his affection due to his recent encounter with Carmen. Of course he wants to hear how his mother is in "Parle-moi de ma mere". He can be gentle here but he must color the phrase differently when he repeats it. One can sing agitato while singing piano.

Micaela must be shy but also flirtatious.  She means to marry Don Jose as his mother wishes. But she is innocent and knows nothing of his situation.  Ms. Brea also conveyed a sense of her character's inner strength which she would call upon in Act III when she goes into the mountains to find the wayward DJ.

Next we heard soprano Christine Taylor Price as Leila and tenor Miles Mykkanen as Nadir in the Act II duet from Bizet's Les pecheurs de perles. This provided the perfect demonstration of the tension/release concept we noted above, to avoid metronomic phrasing which is just boring. Collaborative pianist Will Kelley was astute in getting that point.

A phrase from pharmacotherapy came to mind which can also apply to a scene.  "Start low and go slow". Obviously if you begin a scene with great intensity, there is nowhere to go. In this scene, Leila must listen closely to Nadir's line and to enter not only at the right time but at the right level of intensity. No wonder we love duets!

Further instructions were given to use the consonants to project the vowels. We have noticed this deficit rather often in American singers who often sound afraid of the consonants. A further point was made that French opera is "softer" than Italian opera.

This point was reiterated in the next duet from  Jules Massenet's Werther. There is no melodrama in French opera! "Il faut nous separer" is a suspended waltz which, like the relationship between Werther (sung by tenor Gerard Schneider) and Charlotte (mezzo-soprano Natalia Kutateladze), goes nowhere. CP for this duet was the excellent Katelan Terrell.

Much time was devoted to phrasing and knowing which words in a phrase to weight. The crescendo on long notes can continue in intensity through the silences. The singer can feel without "acting".

A fine point of French diction was to allow the final "e" of a word (like "cherche") to evaporate.  It's there but it should never be obvious.

The final coaching was the most fun and apparently delighted the audience as well as the singers. We will never be able to hear the Act II quintet from Carmen without remembering the points made by Maestro Guillaume. We would tend to agree that making this scene light-hearted like a cabaret sets up the audience for the tragedy to come. 

Le Dancaire (sung by baritone Dimitri Katotakis) and his sidekick Le Remendado (tenor John Noh) are trying to persuade Frasquita (soprano Anneliese Klenetsky) and Mercedes (mezzo-soprano Kady Evanyshyn) to come along on their next smuggling adventure. 

Only Carmen (mezzo-soprano Amanda Lynn Bottoms) refuses.  And then....she drops the bombshell!  She is "amoureuse". The group is incredulous. We have never scene this scene done so effectively; it was accomplished by increasing the tempo and getting each singer to make a more decisive entrance. The entire quintet must be propulsive. Nathan Raskin at the piano had much to contribute in this regard.

Singing about duty (devoir) and love (amour) requires very different coloration.

Another point was that Dancaire's portamento can be used to show his humorous incredulity.  Very effective! These characters are having fun and in a way are playing themselves, perhaps a bit self-consciously. Maestro Villaume injected one final touch that was very effective--a rivalry between Frasquita and Mercedes. The latter sings a line and the former repeats it while upstaging her.

What a worthwhile class! So much information imparted graciously and effectively. 

(c) meche kroop