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, April 26, 2017


Gerard Schneider and Felicia Moore (photo by Hiroyuki Ito)

We love introducing newbies to opera! Leo Janacek's Katya Kabanova is not our idea of a "starter opera" but our guest last night absolutely loved it. For this we credit the superb artists of Juilliard Opera whose superlative singing and convincing acting brought the story to vivid life, bringing out the themes of rebellion against a constricted life and the costs to society of subjugating women.

We also credit the astute direction of Stephen Wadsworth and the fine instrumentalists of the Juilliard Orchestra, under the baton of Anne Manson, who also conducted Janacek's  The Cunning Little Vixen some four years ago.

For this opera, Janacek wrote the libretto himself, based upon Alexander Ostrovsky's 1859 Russian play The Storm. It premiered in Brno in the Czech Republic in 1921 and the music is modern but not painfully so. There are riffs on Moravian folk music and lyrical passages, as well as plenty of anguished discordancy.

We think of it as a tale of two families, the interrelationships of which are complex. The small town in which they live is like small towns everywhere, filled with busybodies, familial obligations, hypocrisy, and religiosity.

At the head of the Kabanov family is the widow Kabanova (Kabanicha) who rules with an iron fist. We never learn what makes her so vicious toward her daughter-in-law Katya and her unhappy son Tichon who drinks and is afraid to defend his wife. Everyone tries to please Kabanicha but no one succeeds. The very idea of her accepting sexual pleasure from her neighbor seemed unbelievable.

There is a lovely young woman in the household--Varvara, a foster child who is somewhat less afraid of her adopted mother. She is having a romance with Kudrjas, a clerk for the wealthy next door neighbor Dikoj. Dikoj is another nasty person who bullies his young nephew Boris.  Boris has to curry favor with Dikoj who controls his inheritance.

When mother-in-law Kabanova (Kabanicha) sends her son away for 10 days on business, the unstable Katya begs her husband to stay, or to take her away, or to place control on her impulses. When repression is so severe, there are always unacceptable impulses!

Boris has met Katya only once but has seen her daily in church and has fallen in love with her. Kudrjas warns him that Katya is a married woman but Boris cannot control his lust.

Katya makes an attempt to control her desires but Varvara eggs her on to meet Boris in the locked up summerhouse in the garden. She meets him nightly in spite of her feelings of guilt. When Tichon returns she confesses and brings on the wrath of both son and mother. Her religiosity and her guilt lead her to drown herself in the river.

Janacek's opera seems to follow two divergent paths: on the one hand, it immerses itself in the life of a small provincial town in 19th c. Russia; on the other hand it makes use of Realism in its dispassionate view of this culture, somewhat at a remove. This duality can be heard in the music as well.

The lead role was sung by soprano Felicia Moore, whom we so much admired recently in a Mozart concert aria, was most affecting in the emotional final scene.  As Varvara, mezzo-soprano Samantha Hankey was a vivid and enlivening presence and sang with her customary gorgeous tone. Inwardly, we cheered when she and Kudrjas made plans to escape the oppressive environment and leave for Moscow. Tenor Sam Levine made an excellent Kudrjas and was fortunate enough to get the only "aria" in the opera--it was a folk song of simple and repetitive form but we loved it. 

Bass Alex Rosen was a brutal Dikoj, and represented all the ignorance of his generation and that stifling culture. In the storm scene, he denied the existence of electricity and called lightening a punishment from God. Rosen's booming bass was just right for the part. As his nephew Boris, tenor Gerald Schneider used his fine instrument and effective acting to create a romantic hero, in spite of the fact that Janacek eschewed Romanticism.

Mezzo-soprano Sara Couden colored her voice with nastiness in the role of Kabanicha. Ms. Couden was fearless in creating such an unlikeable character.
Tenor Miles Mykkanen has such a particular talent in recital that it is astonishing to see him melt into his character on the opera stage. He looked and sounded exactly right as the bullied son Tichon, strangely bound to his miserable mother.

The role of the servant Glasa was sung by soprano Maria Fernanda Brea. Mezzo-soprano Nicole Thomas was Feklusa, another servant. Baritone Xiaomeng Zhang portrayed Kudrjas' friend Kuligin. We even saw the lovely Kady Evanyshyn (reviewed yesterday) onstage, as well as Chance Jonas-O'Toole.

Vita Tzykun's costumes were perfect with the servants getting the colorful dresses.

Charlie Corcoran's set comprised one large room divided into areas--a bed, a wardrobe, a table and chairs.  This was behind a facade showing the exterior of the house which, when raised, gave one a feeling of voyeurism. A gate stood for the entrance to the garden. We were a bit puzzled by the flying bed which was raised and dangled from the roof of the theater.

Nicole Pearce's lighting was subtle but evocative.

Anne Ford-Coates did the Wig and Makeup Design.

There is one point of argument that will never be resolved because opinions on both sides are strong. It is our opinion that using an English translation robbed the work of something special. Janacek's vocal lines were dictated by Czech speech patterns.  Shoehorning an English translation into the vocal line just didn't sound right to our ears. Often, too many words were forced onto too few notes.  Half a dozen people we know and discussed this with agreed with us but two were happy with the English.

We do understand that learning a rarely produced opera in Czech might have been too much for the singers. We also understand that many people believe that "accessibility" is a more important value. In non-musical theater we also would prefer to hear our own language in the interest of accessibility. But opera is more than theater!

We will say that the translation by Yveta Synek Graff and Robert T. Jones was as good as could be expected and we commend the singers on superb enunciation. Titles were projected but were unnecessary.

(c) meche kroop

Tuesday, April 25, 2017


Chris Reynolds and Kady Evanyshyn

We almost always enjoy a good lieder recital but last night's recital at Juilliard left us walking on air. This is not meant to deny the pleasures of a recital program that is of a melancholy nature. Schubert's song cycles end in tragedy but we can enjoy being touched by sorrow. That being said, a recital involving a singer who loves to sing and chooses mainly happy songs leaves us feeling lighter. We are still smiling from last night's recital at Juilliard.

Mezzo-soprano Kady Evanyshyn is as luscious of voice as she is of appearance. She possesses a most welcoming stage presence and shows no evidence of anxiety; au contraire, her addresses to the audience were so relaxed we felt as if a friend had invited us to her parlor for some music-making. She is blessed with a gorgeous instrument of notable texture and has acquired fine technique and linguistic skills. Indeed, our prior hearings of her artistry have been through Glenn Morton's Classic Lyric Arts recitals--brief exposures but enough to have made us want to hear more.

We cannot say that the opening aria was cheerful but it served to show off her superb skill with early opera. "Disprezzata regina" is Ottavia's Act I lament from Claudio Monteverdi's last opera, the 1643 L'incoronazione di Poppea, which established the composer's reputation in the field of music theater. Poor Ottavia bemoans the fate of women chained to cheating husbands. As you may recall, Nerone is enamored of Poppea and casts his wife aside. Ms. Evanyshyn's lovely vibrato emphasized her grief.

A set of Schubert songs were performed in fine German--the lighthearted "An Sylvia" is such a joyful expression of admiration for the lovely eponymous Sylvia!  His "Der Vollmond strahlt auf Bergeshohn" was written as incidental music for the play Rosamunde by Wilhelmina Christiane von Chezy. The libretto for the play has been lost and only partially reconstituted, but Schubert's music continues to delight audiences. We are pleased to tell you that things end well for the heroine, but this piece deals with separation and heartbreak; Chris Reynold's piano established the sadness with his minor key introduction whilst Ms. Evanyshyn's dynamic control served her well.

After the troubled text of "Die Liebe hat gelogen", we heard the impulsive "Rastlose Liebe", given a breathless feeling tone but executed with excellent breath control.  Quite a feat!

The highlight of the evening was, for us, Modest Mussorgsky's nursery songs.  We haven't heard them since Mary-Elizabeth O'Neill performed them at Juilliard two years ago. We loved them then and we loved them last night. They gave Ms. Evanyshyn plenty of opportunity to exercise her dramatic muscle and to use her bubbly personality.

With admirable vocal coloration, she sounded very much like a little boy, sometimes naughty and sometimes trying to please his nanny. This little boy is entranced by scary stories but ultimately prefers the funny ones. She also created the character of the nanny who loves her little charge but can get cranky and scold him. Oh, did that little boy sound aggrieved when punished for the cat's misbehavior!

When he says his bedtime prayers, he seems to have countless aunties and uncles that he rattles off to our great delight.  And when he falls off his hobby-horse, the soothing words of his mother were given an entirely different coloration.  Oh, how we long to hear Ms. Evanyshyn sing the entire cycle, of which we heard more than half.

Gabriel Faure's final song cycle L'horizon chimerique comprises four delicate songs that were given a light touch and sung with fine French style. They certainly showed off some diligent work at CLA's summer program in France. For this cycle, Arthur Williford took over from Chris Reynolds as collaborative pianist.

The final set comprised cabaret songs by William Bolcom, settings of pithy texts by Arnold Weinstein.  In "Over the Piano", the voice has been given a melodic line but the piano has been given some abrasive harmonies. "George" is the tale of a cross-dressing opera singer who comes to a sad end, and "Amor" is that wonderfully tuneful and catchy creation that is usually given as an encore piece, one of which we never tire.

The encore piece was a tune the artist's parents played for her when she was a child. It was a cute and silly song with an uncredited composer and was dedicated to her parents who were in the audience. We stand in awe of an artist with the versatility to do credit to opera, lieder, and cabaret.

We looked back over the program and realized that the material was not what was creating our feeling of joy. It was the artist's joy in singing it that was so contagious. We are amazed to find such talent in an undergraduate! The best news we heard all day was that she will continue at Juilliard in the Masters of Music program so we will have the opportunity to hear her again.  Well done Kady!

(c) meche kroop

Sunday, April 23, 2017


Marie Marquis, James Bassi, and John Kun Park

We all want the song recital to not just survive but to flourish. But this intimate art form can be less than thrilling when performed in a large hall with its consequent loss of intimacy.  In the 19th c. music lovers held salons in their homes with friends gathered around the piano sharing delights that cannot be taken for granted in the 21st c.

Never fear, lieder lovers!  Joy in Singing to the rescue! Under the guidance and with the dedicated labor necessary, Maria Fattore ensures that we get that intimate experience. A fine Sunday afternoon was spent in the private home of some generous music lovers who hosted a very fulfilling recital.

The program was all about Spring with carefully curated songs to invite us to celebrate a beautiful Sunday, fine for walking outdoors but even finer to come indoors and thrill to some gorgeous music.

This is the third time we have heard Marie Marquis sing and our opinion of her remains at a very high level. We saw her having a high time onstage last Halloween with Heartbeat Opera's Mozart in Space and shortly afterward we were in attendance at her recital as winner of the 2016 Joy in Singing award.

What we remember most was her engaging stage presence and sparkling soprano. This young woman can get inside a song and bring it into your heart. A superb singer can get away without these qualities on the opera stage, helped along by sets and costumes and story line. But conveying the emotional content of a lied, especially in an intimate environment, requires a special personality and Ms. Marquis has it all. After this recital we will think of her as The Songbird of Spring.

She alternated with tenor John Kun Park who also brought a special quality to his song delivery and sang without that tenorial pushing that we often disparage. Both artists introduced their songs and told enough about each so that those who did not understand the language could get the gist of things.

Ms. Marquis opened the program with Gabriel Faure's "L'hiver a cesse" effectively negotiating those treacherous upward skips.  Hugo Wolf's "Er ist's" is a joyful song and she communicated all the joy she felt. Argento's "Diaphenia" is more melodic than most 20th c. music and pleased our ears.

We especially loved Clara Schumann's "Das ist ein Tag, der klingen mag" which makes us wonder why more singers don't program this composer's lovely output more often.

That being said, Ms. Marquis seems just made for Strauss. Richard Strauss' "Das Rosenband" was notable for the brilliance of her upper register and gorgeous melismatic passages.

Of course Johann Strauss, Jr. was not related to Richard Strauss but we also loved Ms. Marquis performance of the lengthy and challenging 1882 "Fruhlingsstimmen", a waltz with lavish coloratura passages. For this complex and very wordy piece, Ms. Marquis was "on the book" but we didn't mind. She even did the last verse in English, although her German was just as fine as her French. The piano of accompanist James Bassi echoed her voice in a most enchanting fashion.

Mr. Park's selections included Wolf's "Fussreise" from his Morike lieder, and we enjoyed this jaunty paean to la belle nature. Henri Duparc's Phydile was given a romantic coloration and plenty of dynamic variety.

We loved the expansiveness of Franz Lehar's "Dein ist mein ganzes Herz" from Das Land des Lachelns.  It was sung ardently but well modulated.

Gerald Finzi's "It was a lover and his Lass" (text from Shakespeare's As You Like It) was such fun with its "Hey nonny no" and this just goes to prove that good poetry inspires good music. Mr. Park enjoyed singing it as much as we enjoyed hearing it!  The mood was a little quieter for Wolf's "Im Fruhling" in which Morike's text takes a contemplative turn as he reflects on the indefinable sehnsucht that Spring can arouse in us.

Richard Strauss' Allerseelen is not, strictly speaking, a Springtime song. It refers to the Day of the Dead on November 1st. But the text refers to a beautiful memory from May, so we'll take it, especially since it was so passionately sung by Mr. Park.

We also heard a delightful piano solo from Mr. Bassi--a mashup of Schumann and Hammerstein!

If there is Joy in Singing, there is also the counterpart--Joy in Listening. There was plenty of joy to go around and we are eagerly awaiting news of interesting developments in the works for this esteemed organization.  In the meanwhile, if you have a tax refund looking for a home, consider a tax-deductible donation...www.songsalon.com.


Catherine Malfitano's third-year voice students at Manhattan School of Music

Getting a crowd to spend their Saturday night listening to third-year music students sounds like a hard sell but then Greenfield Hall at Manhattan School of Music was filled to the last row with enthusiastic music lovers who were there to celebrate the unique achievements of this wildly talented group of young artists, talented beyond their years.  There must be a cause!  Of course there is!

The ebullient soprano Catherine Malfitano has taken this class of 26 singers and, over the course of a year, transformed them into an ensemble that can use nothing but their voices and their bodies to lead you down the path of enjoyment of works both familiar and lesser known. Sets are superfluous when the acting is so on point. Although we enjoyed the familiar works, we were most interested in the introduction we received to operas we have never seen produced.

The evening comprised French opera scenes, most of them lighthearted, and we are pleased to note that French diction was held to the highest standard.  Even when the scenes were new to us, the French was so well enunciated and the emotions so well revealed that there was no difficulty understanding what was happening.

Gounod and Bizet were represented but the most scenes were given to works by Jacques Offenbach and Jules Massenet. Casting was accomplished with a great deal of flexibility with many roles shared by two or three singers. Occasionally, roles were given to singers from a fach variant to that which the composer intended, but it was never a problem. Every singer sounded absolutely right. That in itself is a small miracle.

We love Offenbach and have seen and adored his 1868 opera bouffe, La Perichole. The heroine is a sassy piece of work and was here performed jointly by sopranos Aleksandra Durin and Tzuting Tsai with tenor Mimi Chiu as her lover Piquillo. The staging allowed for some competition between the two Pericholes. The music, performed on the piano by Eric Sedgwick, was filled with music hall joy.

The composer's 1858 parody of Gluck's Orfeo,  Orphee aux Enfers involved a Eurydice who is not losing any love over her Orphee. We were impressed by the fine tenor Ramon Gabriel Tenefrancia who had two superb Eurydices to annoy with his virtual violin--Ashely Lea and Hyejin Yoon.

The final work on the program was Offenbach's more serious 1881 work, Les contes d'Hoffmann. We got to hear three Giuliettas, all admirable--Shelen Hughes, Monica Gonzalez, and Makila Redick. Baritone Yichen Xue gave a fine performance of "Scintille, diamant" in which Dapertutto convinces Giuietta to steal Hoffman's reflection. Hoffman was portrayed by Joshua Ross with Rong Yue as Nicklaus. This is one of our favorite operas and we were delighted to get a hearing.

Massenet was represented by his often seen 1884 Manon, a tragedy, and his 1905 comedy Cherubin, which seems ripe for revival with its convoluted plot and gorgeous music. In the former, we enjoyed the first scene in which the aristocrats from Paris arrive with their three "actress" companions and, express their quality of entitlement to the beleaguered innkeeper (Clayton Matthews). The aristocrats were sung by Yiqiao Zhou and Yichen Xue. Their companions were portrayed by Blair Cagney, Melanie Hope Long, and Shelen Hughes. We have never seen singers have so much fun with their roles!

Manon herself was sung by the tiny powerhouse Lauren Lynch who captivated one and all with her "Profitons bien de la jeunesse".  In the Act IV quartet, Ms. Long exchanged roles with Ms. Lynch.

Massenet's Cherubin is yet another entry in the tale of the Count and Countess Almaviva and Cherubino, but done more as a French farce. In the scene from Act II, soprano Juliana Levinson sang the part of L"Ensoleillad with mezzo-soprano Gabriella Chea singing the eponymous hero. It was difficult to tell who was seducing whom but the audience loved the uninhibited body language and we loved the way the voices blended.

This opera goes on our wish list, as does Charles Gounod's 1864 Mireille in which the title role was shared by two lovely sopranos who harmonized to perfection--Ms. Redick and Ms. Hughes.

There were also two scenes from Carmen, Georges Bizet's 1875 masterpiece. We always love the scene in which Carmen declines to join her smuggler friends and elicits their hilarity with her protestation of being amoureuse. Mezzo-soprano Catarina Veytia mad a fine Carmen with Gabriella Will and Ms. Cagney as Frasquita and Mercedes. Mr. Matthews sang El Dancairo and El Remendado was sung by Mr. Zhou.

The Act III fortune-telling scene had Cynthia Soyeon Yu as Frasquita and Ziyi Dai as Mercedes. Mr. Sedgwick's piano was particularly wonderful in this portentous scene.

It was a most delightful evening from start to finish and left us incredulous that third-year music students could perform in such an accomplished fashion. What a pleasure to hear healthy young voices in the service of drama, entertainment, and artistry. Ms. Malfitano's magic never ceases to amaze!

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, April 22, 2017


Rachel Stewart

Years ago there was a saying about double features--"one piperoo, one stinkeroo". Let no one say that about the operatic double feature we enjoyed last night performed by the Opera Repertoire Ensemble of Manhattan School of Music.  Actually, there was plenty of resonance between the two tales of female suicide.

The heroine of Francis Poulenc's 1959 monodrama La Voix Humaine (adapted from a play by Jean Cocteau) suffers from romantic illusions whilst the heroine of Puccini's 1918 Suor Angelica suffers from religious illusions (or delusions, as the case may be).

Monica Talavera and Amber Evans

In both cases, the women have put their centers of gravity outside themselves, one willingly and the other as a victim of cultural and familial forces. The pairing, taking Suor Angelica out of it's place in Puccini's oft-produced trilogy, leads us to see the work in a new light. The only downside is leaving the theater feeling the full force of the tragedy without the relief of Puccini's light-hearted comedy Gianni Schicchi.

In the Poulenc, a woman with no name is having a much interrupted conversation with a lover who has ended the relationship. Clearly she is not ready to let him go and is still using terms of endearment. The role calls upon the soprano to sing a minimalistic vocal line based upon French speech patterns, and to inject her
lines with a full spectrum of emotions.

The listener hears only her half of the conversation.  The words of the man are left to the imagination of the listener to fill in from his/her own experience. He must obviously care for the woman to some extent to stay on the phone and listen to her protestations of love and her made-up stories which she later recants.

Continual interruptions and disconnections add to the fragmentary nature of the monologue, and are symbolic of the emotional disconnection. As "Elle", soprano Rachel Stewart rose to the vocal challenges and gave a shattering performance, involving the audience by means of her own involvement with the role. We wonder about a character who would give up her life for five years and center it around a man--but this was over a half century ago.  Autre temps, autre moeurs. 

Even further back in history, a century ago, getting pregnant out of wedlock was enough to cause a family to reject the unfortunate mother-to-be and to hustle her off to a convent to do penance for her "sin". Nowadays women who prefer to be unwed can deliberately create a child and raise it alone or en famille.

Suor Angelica's aristocratic family has immured her in a convent and deprived her of any contact. She suffers mightily from neglect and wants nothing more than to embrace her son. When she finally gets the longed-for visit from her aunt, La Principessa, there is no forgiveness or acceptance. The purpose of the visit is to get her to sign over her inheritance. Even worse, she learns that her child died several years earlier.

She poisons herself with an herbal concoction, becomes terrified about being damned, prays, and believe herself forgiven. She hallucinates her child welcoming her to heaven.

With meager resources at hand, the Opera Repertoire Ensemble gave the piece an excellent production, thanks to the breadth of vocal talent available.  The piece opens with the superb chorus singing an Ave Maria. The eponymous Suor Angelica was sung by the excellent soprano Amber Evans who was moving in her portrayal and sang with a light clear tone regardless of whether she was in ecstasy or despair.

The other superb performance was that of contralto Monica Talavera who created a character who was as cold as she was arrogant; her rich instrument stood in lovely contrast with Ms. Evans' soprano.

The entire cast of nuns sounded wonderful with voices raised in gorgeous harmonies and the brief solo lines were well handled by each and every nun.

Although we missed Puccini's lush orchestrations, a great job was done by pianists Jiwon Byung and Yi Xin Tan together with Jia Jun Hong filling in with special effects on the synthesizer.

As usual, Maestro Thomas Muraco's sensitive conducting pulled everything together to create a most worthwhile evening. Watching his hands is a treat in and of itself.

There will be a second performance tonight with some cast changes and we recommend it highly if you can snag a ticket. Last night had a waiting line to deal with so go early.

(c) meche kroop


Jonathan Heaney, Seok Jong Baek, and Hidenori Inoue

A Masters Degree recital marks the commencement of a singer's career, but, as often as not, the singer has already begun singing roles in small companies.  Such is the case with bass Hidenori Inoue whom we have heard and admired on a few occasions. His performance as the eponymous hero of Donizetti's Don Pasquale was a revelation and we later enjoyed his appearance with New Amsterdam Opera as Leonora's father in Verdi's Forza del Destino. And we will soon be hearing his Don Magnifico in Rossini's Cenerentola with A.R.E. Opera.  That's quite a range of roles!

Yesterday's recital at Manhattan School of Music was his first foray into lieder which thus demonstrated his versatility as an artist. Basses have a long "shelf life" as does Mr. Inoue's teacher James Morris. So it makes sense to try everything whilst one is young. The problem with lieder recitals for the basso fach is that most of the songs are dark in color and it is difficult to establish variety.

The three songs by Schubert that opened the program are a case in point--they are all grim. Jonathan Heaney's piano established the mood in the introduction to "Der Tod und das Madchen" and we would have enjoyed a more tender color from the maiden than we heard from "Death". We enjoyed the eerie tone and anguish of "Der Doppelganger" and found the German to be quite good. Overall we like the quality of Mr. Inoue's instrument and the appealing vibrato. And he has plenty of strength at the lower end of the register.

It was evident in the three songs by Henri Duparc than Mr. Inoue can sing with a more tender color, as he did in "Phidyle". It was also clear that he knew what he was singing about and we saw les abeilles and les oiseaux through his eyes. "Extase" was lovely but "La Vague et la Cloche" took us right back to "grim" with its disturbing nightmare.

After intermission, Mr. Inoue was back on more familiar territory. He is a natural on the opera stage and gave a superb performance of Fiesco's aria from Verdi's Simon Boccanegra. Although Fiesco is an enemy of the hero, Verdi's music and Mr. Inoue's performance stimulated our sympathy for the character who has just lost his daughter. He is filled with grief which he transmutes into anger at Boccanegra and at the Virgin. We enjoyed it so much that we were moved to listen to several of the great basses singing the same aria--Cesare Siepi, James Morris, and Nicolai Ghiaurov. Mr. Inoue can be proud of his performance!

Four songs by Aaron Copland were well handled and injected some variety into the program. "The Little Horses" has rhythmic variety and some notes at the top of the basso range which the artist handled well. His English is sung with only the slightest accent which didn't interfere with our understanding of the text. We particularly liked the lively and spirited reading he gave to "Ching-A-Ring Chaw".

The program closed with the marvelous duet from Bellini's I Puritani which we recently saw at The Metropolitan Opera.
We have heard the rousing "Suoni la tromba" often at award recitals because it it a stunning showpiece for baritone and bass. In this case the baritone was Seok Jong Baek, whom we always enjoy. The two artists shared a beautiful blending of tones.

Although Mr. Inoue's upcoming schedule will take him to Maine and to Oklahoma, we suggest you catch his upcoming performance in the afore-mentioned Cenerentola. We believe he is destined for great success and you will be able to say "I heard him when...".

(c) meche kroop

Friday, April 21, 2017


Pianist Cody Martin and singers Zachary Owen, Mariya Kaganskaya, Katrina Galka, Alyssa Martin, and Joseph Lattanzi

Tucson is the birthplace and home of Arizona Opera which has been building an audience for opera in Arizona since 1971. Their programming is eclectic and, judging by the performances we heard last night at The National Opera Center, the people of that gorgeous state are getting the highest quality.

For those of us who cherish the future of opera, it was a golden opportunity to hear the rising stars of the desert sky. The recital by Arizona Opera Studio Artists was part of Opera America's Emerging Artist Recital Series. For us personally, it was an opportunity to witness the growth of two lovely ladies we had enjoyed in Santa Fe, as part of their Apprentice Program--and to be introduced to three more singers of whom we hope to hear more.

The overall quality was impressive and it is no wonder that these young artists are receiving awards and filling roles around the country. We were delighted to learn that two of them will be in Santa Fe this summer so we will get to hear them again. The others will be at Glimmerglass and if that venue were more accessible for non-drivers, we would go to hear them as well.

Opening the program were soprano Katrina Galka and mezzo-soprano Alyssa Martin in "Ah, perdona al primo affetto" an ardent love duet from Mozart's La clemenza di Tito. Ms. Galka's soaring soprano was perfect for Servilio and Ms. Martin's performance as Annio had plenty of breadth.

The scene from Mozart's Cosi fan tutte in which Guglielmo seduces Dorabella "Il core vi dono" was so convincingly performed that our mind filled in the set and the plot of the entire opera.  Mezzo-soprano Mariya Kaganskaya was an ambivalent but willing Dorabella, succumbing to the seductive blandishments of a very persuasive Joseph Lattanzi. Both have voices we would describe as creamy-dreamy.

The next few duets were in French, which is far more difficult to sing.  If the diction was not perfect, it was creditable and mostly understandable. We loved the harmonies produced by Ms. Kaganskaya and bass-baritone Zachary Owen in the scene from Massenet's Cendrillon in which Pandolfe tries to comfort his disappointed daughter--"Ma pauvre enfant cherie".

We have never been a fan of Debussy's Pelleas et Melisande but we absolutely adored the love scene "Mes longs cheveux descendent jusqu'au seuil de la tour". The eroticism was as thick as molasses until the angry Golaud appears on the scene. The versatile Ms. Martin was perfect for Melisande and Mr. Lattanzi's legato served him well as the besotted Pelleas. Mr. Owen proved a threatening Golaud. We wondered whether our newborn affection for this opera came from the ardency of the vocal performance or the beautiful pianism of Cody Martin who captured Debussy's shimmering colors. We'd have to say both!

Berlioz' gorgeous melodies and harmonies served to express the glories of la belle nature when Hero (Ms. Galka) and her attendant Ursula (Ms. Kaganskaya) join voices for "Nuit paisible et sereine". This duet from Beatrice et Benedict was balm to the ears and both singers followed the long leisurely line of the phrases most effectively.  It was swoon-worthy.

A return to Italian offered these fine artists an opportunity to dabble in comedy and bel canto. From Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore we heard the wise Adina (Ms. Galka) let the bloviating Dulcamara (Mr. Owen) know that she had enough charm and she didn't need his love potion. Their performances were winning and we got the impression that Mr. Owen is more comfortable in Italian and very effective in comedy. We can just picture him as Don Pasquale!

The final duet was the famous "Dunque io son...tu non m'inganni?" from Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia. We always wait for that special moment when the spunky Rosina surprises Figaro with the note for "Lindoro" which she has already written. Ms. Martin seemed just right for Rosina and Mr. Lattanzi showed equivalent flexibility.

Although it was the perfect way to end a grand recital, we were left wanting more. An hour of duets is never enough but we'd rather have quality than quantity so there will be no complaining!

Mr. Martin's accompaniment was superb throughout.

(c) meche kroop