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.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

TWO IMPRESSIVE DEBUTS at WEILL RECITAL HALL


Melody Moore (photo by Chip Gillespie)
Benjamin Perry Wenzelberg


It isn't every day that we get to celebrate two debuts--that of the aptly named famous soprano Melody Moore, heretofore unknown to us, and that of musical wunderkind Benjamin Perry Wenzelberg, about whom we have been writing  for several years.  Mr. Wenzelberg sings, conducts, plays several instruments and composes. He is finishing his first opera.  But last night's impressive debut was a song he was commissioned to write for Ms. Moore.

It isn't every day that we hear the "f word" in Carnegie Hall and that is another first that we will get to further along in our review

Ms. Moore has been making quite a name for herself with her highly dramatic interpretations and warm stage presence.  The list of roles she has tackled and those upcoming give one the impression of astonishing versatility--Mozart, Wagner, Puccini, Verdi, Bizet, and Jerome Kern are all represented. With collaborative pianist Robert Mollicone, she held the Weill Recital Hall audience in rapt attention. 

Stefano Donaudy and Ottorino Respighi were contemporaries but their turn of the 20th c. songs could not be more different.  Donaudy looked backward to the 19th c. that we so love and Ms. Moore sang his "Amorosi miei giorni" with an attractive vibrato and well-shaped phrasing. The embellishments were superbly handled and we are hoping that Ms. Moore may get interested in the bel canto repertory.

Respighi's work looked more toward the future with less glorious melodic invention but more interesting harmonic structure.  Ms. Moore sang his "Notte" with gorgeous coloring. 

But nothing captivated us as much as  Puccini's early song "Sole e amore" to which, we believe, he wrote the text himself. We felt our eyes tearing up and realized that the melody and accompaniment were almost identical with those heard in his opera La Bohème!

Claude Debussy, a contemporary of Puccini, distinguished himself from his colleagues by setting prose and free verse that he wrote himself.  Thus what we are hearing seems to be an aural counterpart to paintings of the Impressionist school, although Debussy vociferously objected to his music being called impressionistic.  One's ears are surrounded by beauty that is mutable and unstable.

We were delighted to be introduced to his Proses lyriques, in which Ms. Moore and Mr. Mollicone painted pictures in sound.  In "De grève", the piano provided multiple images of the sea, both at rest and in its wildest moments. The final song "De soir" gave the singer an opportunity to paint auditory portraits of Debussy's varied images by means of gesture and vocal coloring.

The second half of the program began with Strauss songs, in which Ms. Moore's operatic voice seemed more at home. In the first half, the bronchitis which she had pushed aside (a less confident artist might have begged the audience's indulgence) lent a somewhat hard edge to her voice when she pushed for volume in the upper range. But in the Strauss, everything sounded just fine. 

We always love the bittersweet "Befreit" from his Op.39 in which the words speak of joy but the occasion is one of releasing a loved one to death. We heard a beautifully modulated performance in which Ms. Moore spun out the final note to great emotional effect.

The final work on the program sprang from an original idea. Ms. Moore asked five composers to set texts by a poet of whom she is very fond, Clementine von Radics. This young poet has been well-celebrated; we can understand why her texts about the female experience of love have resonated with her readers.

But when we read the texts they seemed to us like novelistic prose, requiring no music to make their impact. Obviously, the five composers felt otherwise and managed to make music for Ms. Moore and Mr. Mollicone to perform.

Having just reviewed an evening of Stephen Schwartz' music at Manhattan School of Music, we were most eager to hear what this versatile composer, equally at home with Broadway musicals and opera, would add to the text. We found he was the most successful of the group at emphasizing the vocal line, making it interesting and singable. His lyricism is wondrously accessible and he knows how to write for the voice so that every single word can be understood. We liked the way he used repetition, especially of the word "river" in "Someday I Will Stop Being Young and Wanting Stupid Tattoos".

It is interesting that Mr. Wenzelberg became friendly with Ms. Moore on the set of Mr. Schwartz' 2011 opera Séance on a Wet Afternoon, one of a very few contemporary operas that we would want to see a second time. We care not a whit if other reviewers find his work "too accessible"!

As far as the texts set by other composers, we admired the pianistic writing more than the vocal line. Since certain verses and lines were omitted from the program notes, there were many phrases that went by without comprehension, although it was no challenge to get the gist of what Ms. Moore was singing about.

Each composer was able to choose the text he wanted to set and Mr. Wenzelberg had felt a special affinity for "Some Things You Could Do to Heal Yourself".  We loved the dramatic intensity and the melismatic vocal line on the word "silly".

Scott Gendel's setting had some lovely writing for piano and Gregg Kallor wrote a suitably quiet setting for the text of "A Prayer".  David Hanlon wrote the cabaret-inflected music for "Poems and Other Sentimental Bullshit". 

It was in this song that the f-bomb was dropped. At the risk of sounding prudish, we do not find the "f word" suitable in an art song.  Clearly we were outvoted since the audience seemed to love this instance of  épater le bourgeois.  We would prefer "sentimental bullshit"!

As encore, Ms. Moore sang Mr. Rogers' song "It's You I Like", an original way to end the evening.

(c) meche kroop









Wednesday, May 25, 2016

IN THE BEGINNING--OUT OF AFRICA

Kevin Nathaniel Hylton, Dawn Padmore, and Yacouba Sissoko


Salon/ Sanctuary Concerts was founded by Jessica Gould seven years ago, during the depths of the economic downturn; they have not only survived but thrived by virtue of presenting music from the pre-Romantic period.  Her finely tuned taste has managed to expand the horizons of our 19th c. ears. Last night she presented a program of the very earliest music extant.

Anyone familiar with the National Geographic website knows that mankind originated in Africa. So it is not surprising that music originated there as well, making African music the very oldest music one can hear--older still than Greek music.

With the collaboration of The Goddard Riverside Community Center on the Upper West Side, and with special thanks to Susan Macaluso, Salon/Sanctuary Concerts presented an evening of music entitled "In The Beginning" that was compelling and satisfying both physically and emotionally.

We entered to find the stage littered with unusual instruments; we could barely wait to learn how they would sound. The musicians were of world renown--not only performers and recording artists but scholars of African music and providers of outreach to several populations.

The music came from Western Africa with Yoruba songs, Igbo Songs, and one Liberian song--Liberia being the birthplace of the singer Dawn Padmore who sings with a generosity of spirit and lovely tone. The traditional songs spoke of celebrations and grieving, birth, healing, and death. We loved the one sung for the birth of twins, and the one about a neighbor's dearth of hospitality.

Although the Igbo songs were purported to be westernized, to our ears they seemed as authentic as the Yoruba songs.  Our favorite was a love song in which the man is described as a man who doesn't beat his woman but brushes her with eagle feathers. Ms. Padmore's warm spirit informed her every gesture, making this simple song sensual and erotic.

Mr. Hylton accompanied with the melodic Kalimba which has different names in different parts of Africa.  Actually, he played an entire selection of them, often within the deep bowl of a gourd which we imagined would amplify the sound. This instrument was not unfamiliar to us since we once owned and played a very basic version.

Another familiar instrument was the Djembe, a skin covered drum played with the bare hands of Anicet Mundundu. Although we had never seen one before, the playing style reminded us of the playing of a conga drum, providing incredibly complex rhythmic accompaniment.

The other two instruments fascinated us by virtue of their complexity and uniqueness. The string instrument known as the Kora was expertly played by the smiling Yacouba Sissoko, a Malian musical storyteller by heredity. The Kora has 21 strings with a row of 10 strings on the right side to be  plucked by the right hand, and 11 on the left side to be plucked by the left hand.  Each of the 21 strings is separately bound to the neck with cowhide thongs and must be separately tuned. There are no frets. The closest sound we could think of was that of the small harp played by Mariachis. The neck runs through the hide covering the calabash.

The second astonishing instrument is the Talking Drum. We would have a hard time summarizing the various sounds as "talking"--we heard grumbling and shouting, whispering and wailing, and a few gurgles. The technique for producing these sounds is fascinating. Kofo "The Wonderman" Ayanfowora (and he is indeed a wonder!) tucked his drum under his left arm and, using a curved stick, proceeded to produce the most amazing sounds by altering the pressure of his arm and the technique of striking the head. The pitch and variety of timbre seemed limitless in their range.

Also on hand for the second half of the evening was Fatima Gozlan who improvised on a most unusual flute and provided additional percussion by tapping on gourds covered with beads.

Although we did not accept the invitation to get up and dance, we were surely dancing on the inside!

(c) meche kroop


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

FROM WEIMAR TO HANDEL

Kim David Smith

We are sitting in the cozy but glamorous back room of Pangea in the East Village thrilling to the musical stylings of the naughty but nice Kim David Smith when who should appear onstage but Anthony Roth Costanzo, the world-renowned counter-tenor about whom we have been writing since his student days at Manhattan School of Music. 

We have no way of knowing if anyone in the audience was an opera lover when they sat down but we are quite sure that they have become opera lovers after Mr. Costanzo's riveting performance of "Tacerò purchè fedele" from Händel's Agrippina.

As if this were not sufficiently earth-shaking, he followed the Händel with "Summertime" from Gershwin's opera Porgy and Bess.

It was altogether a delightful evening with Mr. Smith, about whom we have also been writing for a few years, pressing the advantages of his adorable faux-wicked persona and his charming Down Under accent. We have observed his career burgeoning with evenings with lots of pop music and a big band; but we enjoy him most as he was when we first heard him, focusing on captivating songs sung in fine German and French. His delivery keeps getting more and more refined.

Minus the black eyeliner and bowler hat, he still manages to suggest the atmosphere of 1930's Berlin. Happily, he performed all of our favorite songs, including William Bolcom's "Song of Black Max" and "The Black Freighter" from Brecht/Weill's Threepenny Opera.  Only Nina Simone's version can compare!

Whatever Mr. Smith sings has his own particular stamp on it that makes you feel as if you've never heard it before.  For example "You Keep Me Hangin' On" sung mostly in waltz time and then in 2/4 time. You never heard The Supremes sing it like that! Nor have you heard David Bowie's "Ground Control to Major Tom" like that either.

In Tracy Stark, Mr. Smith has found the perfect accompanist who can noodle effectively while he engages the audience and then keep up with his singing. Playing bass was the excellent Matt Scharfglass.

In addition to these two dazzling artists, there were two other singers who entertained us royally. Gay Marshall put an original stamp on some Edith Piaf songs, sung partly in English of her own (quite good) translation, and partly in French, which predictably we preferred. We'd certainly like to hear more of Ms. Marshall!

And finally we were given a very funny original song by fellow Australian Alexis Fishman. The lyrics were about masculinity and femininity and what happens when you reverse the polarity.  It was WAY clever in its rhymes.

Were it not for concepts we learned from Steven Blier's programming for NYFOS, we might have thought it strange to mix opera and Weimar cabaret; instead we were impressed how good music is good to listen to, no matter what the genre is. The only difference was that Mr. Costanzo does not use amplification whereas Mr. Smith does.

We love the idea of opera in new venues, as when Judith Fredricks produces her cabaret style opera at the Metropolitan Room.  We hope to have more evenings like this one.

(c) meche kroop





Saturday, May 21, 2016

GILDA-- NOT IN A TRUNK

Aaron Blankfield, Laura Virella, Jessica Sandige, and Robert Garner in Amore Opera's production of Rigoletto


Every one of the smaller sized opera companies in New York has its own style, its own mission, and its own constituency. The plucky Amore Opera sprang like a phoenix from the ashes of the Amato Opera Company; they serve their audience well by presenting honorable productions of operas-- both well known and undiscovered ones alike. We use the word "honorable" because there is no giant ego here trying to make an opera "relevant" by updating it or shoehorning it into a different locale. The composer and librettist are well served, as well as the singers and the audience.

Here we have Artistic and Stage Director Nathan Hull who really understands opera and opera singers and lets them show their stuff in a highly legitimate fashion. Apparently, his view of the major themes of Giuseppi Verdi's Rigoletto is consonant with our own. He takes us exactly where librettist Francesco Maria Piave meant for us to be--16th c. Mantua, where a licentious Duke could surround himself with courtiers and employ a hunchback as his court jester.

As we see it, and Mr. Hull as well, the major themes are 1) the corruption of the spirit that can occur when a body is deformed, 2) the possibility of fine and tender sentiments in even the most abrasive character, and 3) the supernatural belief in the effectiveness of a curse.

When an individual is ostracized by society, his character gets deformed in any one of a number of possible ways. Rigoletto's eponymous hero is opera's version of Shakespeare's Richard III, trying to gain power over his tormentors.

Rigoletto, while a holy terror at court, is a devoted loving father to Gilda; his failure is loving too much and being too restrictive of her freedom. She has not had the opportunity to develop her own judgment, a quality that is earned by learning from one's mistakes.

16th c. folk took curses very seriously and it is here that Mr. Hull's directorial touches made perfect sense. Whenever Monterone's curse was mentioned, the lighting and the music and the acting let us know, in no uncertain terms, that Rigoletto was petrified.  (That was one of the failures of the Metropolitan Opera's most recent production which placed the action in contemporary Las Vegas.  As if anyone in today's America would be afraid of a curse!)

There is something about a small house that lets the audience members feel everything more intensely.  The theater in the Sheen Center on Bleeker Street only holds about 250 people and everyone gets to feel the annoyance of the courtiers, the callous indifference of the Duke, the shame of the abducted daughter, the grief of the father, and the flexible morality of the hired assassin Sparafucile.

As Rigoletto, baritone Robert Garner turned in his reliably excellent performance with acting that matched vocalism; he permitted us to see the softer feelings which underlay the hunchback's abrasive behavior at court. His Act I aria was performed in front of the curtain, allowing the sets to be changed for the scene in his home, and allowing the audience a greater understanding of his character.

Soprano Jessica Sandige made a fine Gilda, showing her character's innocence and devotion to her father by means of gesture and vocal color.  Their duet in the second scene of Act I began in 3/4 time but the time signature changed as emotions grew in intensity. We are very much looking forward to Ms. Sandige's performance with Martina Arroyo's Prelude to Performance in July. And we hope she will use her excellent "Caro nome" as an audition piece.

We first heard and reviewed tenor Aaron Blankfield four years ago at Chelsea Opera in the role of Goro and are glad to see his promise fulfilled. Last night he showed a completely different side of himself than he did recently as Nemorino. Going from that role to that of the Duke was like day into night but he acquitted himself well.  He really shone in Act II with "Ella mi fu rapita!" We actually like Mr. Blankfield's voice best in the more piano passages, at which he excels.

Another highlight of Act II was the scene in which Gilda confesses her shame to her father. She literally cannot face him. The emotionalism was intense.

As Maddalena, mezzo-soprano Laura Virella was totally believable--just as vulnerable to the charms of the Duke as Gilda was--and convincingly persuasive with her brother as she begged him to spare the Duke's life, even as he sings the famous "La donna è mobile", driving the audience wild.

The Act III quartet was brilliant with all four major character singing of their desires and fears. Most poignant is Rigoletto's wish for vengeance and Gilda's desire for forgiveness for the Duke.

We enjoyed the substantial baritone of Sam Carl as the outraged Count of Monterone who lays his curse upon the Duke and Rigoletto, both indifferent to the violation of his daughter.  And this was a spot where Mr. Hull's direction amplified the impact.

In the same scene, the Count of Ceprano (baritone Thomas Geib) suffered extraordinary humiliation when children entered and literally placed horns on his head because the Duke was going to have his way with the Countess of Ceprano (mezzo-soprano Mary Gwynne Langston). Just another brilliant directorial touch that emphasized the cruelty of the court.

Bass Peter Ludwig sang the role of Sparafucile in a menacing manner. Baritone Stuart Whalen took the role of Marullo and tenor Daniel Kerr sang the part of Borsa. As Giovanna, Gilda's guilty governess, Janelle Kirton overdid her gestures in an inappropriately modern fashion.

Maestro Douglas Martin conducted with Verdian vigor. The strings  produced a lovely carpet of sound, but the brass took awhile to calm down. We particularly liked Richard Paratley's flute solo. It is challenging for the artists to sing over the orchestra, which is not in a pit. But that is just a factor to be tolerated since there is no way to change it.

Sets were simple but worked well. There was a throne and some panels to suggest the court. Rigoletto's terrace worked well with a street entrance and a rear one. Rigoletto's role in holding the ladder in the abduction scene was made clear. Sparafucile's tavern seemed barren and isolated which added to the feeling in Act III.

Costumes were colorful and suggestive of the Renaissance. Choreography by Dana Boll was effective but unnecessary. One minor flaw of Amore Opera is tending to crowd the small stage with either too many people or too much scenery.

Fine work was done by the chorus, under the direction of Susan Morton. Their voices added greatly to the storm scene, providing the sounds of the wind while the orchestra produced the thunder.

If you wish to see the same cast, you will find them onstage next Saturday night. However, we understand that the other casts are equally fine and there are several performances from which to choose.  There are even two Saturday matinees with an abridged version for children.

(c) meche kroop


Monday, May 16, 2016

WEST SIDE STORY COMES TO THE EAST SIDE

Christopher Cano, Dimitri Pittas, and Jennifer Johnson Cano







The final piece on the program of yesterday's George London recital was the duet from Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story with mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnson Cano singing the role of Maria and tenor Dimitri Pittas singing the role of Tony in "Tonight". Stephen Sondheim's words perfectly expressed the rapture of new love and Bernstein's luscious melody felt just right played by the versatile pianist Christopher Cano.

There was no encore but this was the perfect number to send the audience out happily humming. Shall we sulk because this was the end of a season of glorious recitals presented at the Morgan Library by the George London Foundation? No! We prefer to exult over our memories of this terrific season and the exciting program already set for next season, which we will reveal at the end of our review.  Hang in there!

We have been writing about Ms. Cano for at least three years now. Her fame onstage is richly deserved and well-earned. She seems to have a splendid partnership with her husband Christopher; the two share an emotional connection with each other and with the music they choose. It is always a welcome event to hear them together in recital.

The roundness of tone and fine technique have been recognized and celebrated by the Metropolitan Opera National Council, the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, and the Richard Tucker Foundation, as well as the George London Foundation. But what makes us want to stand up and sing (her praises) is her gift for storytelling. The drama is operatic in scope and makes each song a deep emotional experience for the listener.

One of our favorite Hugo Wolf songs is "Der Feuerreiter" and this is the first time there was no doubt about the malicious intention of the subject of the song and his horrific end. Mr. Cano's piano joined Ms. Cano's voice in horrifying reciprocity. We liked the change of color in the final verse.

Another of our favorite Wolf songs is the sorrowful "Das Verlassene Mägdlein" which we just heard two days ago. The artistic couple took it at a very slow tempo, suitable to the depressed state of the abandoned girl. The lighthearted "Begegnung" allowed Mr. Cano to create quite a storm in the piano.

His magic fingers were able to bring the nightingale right into the theater in "La maja y el ruiseñor", a very fine song by Enrique Granados. Ms. Cano's Spanish was just as excellent as her German.

Jonathan Dove did well in his choice of text for Three Tennyson Songs, the settings of which were far more musical than most contemporary compositions. Ms. Cano's English diction and fine phrasing made excellent sense of the text.  Our personal favorite was "The Sailor-Boy" with its A-B-A-B rhyme scheme--an exuberant tale of a young man's thirst for adventure on the high seas.

In an interesting and probably coincidental bit of programming, tenor Dimiti Pittas had as his collaborative pianist his very own wife. If the name Leah Edwards sounds familiar to you, you may have been acquainted with her through the world of gymnastics, dance, Broadway, or opera. Yesterday she wore her pianist hat and we were most pleased with her stylish performance.

We have enjoyed Mr. Pittas onstage at The Metropolitan Opera and The Santa Fe Opera. We still remember his moving performance as Macduff in an otherwise distasteful production of Verdi's Macbeth. We wish we could say that we enjoyed him as much as a lieder singer.

Not every opera singer has the requisite skills for the art song. Mr. Pittas' approach failed to take into account the size and dry acoustics of the theater at The Morgan Library. He seemed to be pushing his voice to reach a non-existent family circle! Furthermore, there was a lack of subtlety in the coloration.

The Quatre chansons of Henri Duparc are mainly fragile things requiring a lighter touch.  Perhaps the best of the four was "Le manoir de Rosamonde" in which Ms. Edwards set the frantic mood in the piano and maintained the feeling of suspense throughout.

We were unable to understand Mr. Pittas' French; our Francophone companion was able to pinpoint the deficiencies in his French pronunciation--both of which could easily be corrected.  Like many Americans he overemphasized the "r" and failed to distinguish between "a" and "o". This would not matter much on the opera stage but does matter in lieder singing where the text is crucial.

His German was better than his French but the simple songs by Brahms also demanded a lighter touch. The gossamer delicacy of "Die Mainacht" was completely overwhelmed.

We promised to give you advance notice of next year's recitals so save the dates! On October 9th, Isabel Leonard will be joined by Jared Bybee and that recital should be a major treat. The George London Competition Finals will be held February 17th of 2017 and that is an event no opera lover should miss.

Fans of Paul Appleby (of which we count ourselves one) must wait until March 5th when he will share his program with relative newcomer Sarah Mesko. April 9th will bring us Amber Wagner and Reginald Smith, Jr.

We can barely contain our excitement over getting up close and personal with these superb artists.
The dates are already on our calendar. The singers that give us so much pleasure have all been recipients of awards from The George London Foundation for Singers. The funds have been well spent!

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, May 14, 2016

A GEM UNEARTHED

Cast of Malvina Di Scozia with Director Judith Barnes and Conductor Hans Schellevis


Last week, Opera Orchestra of New York presented a rarely heard opera and this week it was Vertical Player Repertory that gave us a similar gift. We know OONY well but somehow never managed to catch up with VPR (which has been around since 1998)  but we will now consider ourself fans forever.  What a glorious evening we spent with this fine group--hearing music that may well have been lost forever.

The story of its unearthing may be as interesting as the story of the opera itself. Production Curator Thea Cook has long collected the works of one Giovanni Pacini, an Italian composer of the 19th c. This prolific composer is known to have composed about 75 operas which were rather successful in his time, although eclipsed by the more famous Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, and ultimately Verdi.

Ultimately Ms. Cook was able to track down a score for Malvina Di Scozia, a turbulent tragedy about a dysfunctional royal family that premiered in Naples in 1851. The famous librettist Salvadore Cammarano, who wrote the libretto for Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor was obliged to move the story to Scotland (although, unlike Lucia, there is nothing innately Scottish about the story) to avoid offending the King of Naples.

There were other problems. The tenor withdrew and Pacini was obliged to rewrite much of the music, giving us that rare opera without a tenor in a leading role. This must not be considered negatively. Success was snatched from the jaws of defeat, since the resulting combination of voices produced some most interesting sonorities, as we observed last night.

The story was scandalous for its time. Prince Arturo has fathered two children with Malvina, without benefit of wedlock. His father King Malcom has arranged a marriage with Morna, an Irish princess--likely for political reasons.  Just like many 19th c. operas, there is poisoning, revenge, stabbing, kidnapping and slaughter.  This cannot end well.  It does not end well.

But the music, never recorded, definitely deserves to be. And the opera easily merits a full production with sets and costumes. It is unfortunate that the Metropolitan Opera keeps trashing the same old operas in its repertory or presenting contemporary works that no one wants to see twice. There must be treasure troves of undiscovered gems like this one, waiting to be unearthed!

Conductor Hans Schellevis was commissioned to create a performing edition of the score and did a superb job. The score was so well played by pianist Doug Han that it was easy to imagine the sounds of an entire orchestra. Within the confines of a concert presentation involving music stands, Artistic Director Judith Barnes staged the work well.

And the singing!!!  A fine cast was assembled and we were most impressed with the memorable dramatic mezzo-soprano of Karolina Pilou whose voice, once heard, will not be forgotten nor will it be duplicated.  In a world of cookie-cutter voices, it is a treat to hear a unique timbre like this one.  Ms. Pilou portrayed Morna, who gets to be noble in her compassion, as she spares the life of Malvina, the woman with whom her intended has bonded .

Malvina was sung by soprano Angela Leson who sang beautifully and created a sympathetic character as well. Her confidant Edwige was finely sung by soprano Katya Gruzglina.

As Prince Arturo, we heard lyric baritone Ben Bloomfield who handled the role with distinction. Bass Stephan Kirchgraber sang forcefully as King Malcom.

Yes, there was a tenor; Aram Tchobanian portrayed Wortimer, advisor to King Malcom, who creates all the misery in this unhappy family. Men who are scorned can created as much hellish fury as women in the same position!  Bass-baritone Javier Ortiz portrayed Rodwaldo, Captain of the Archers.

There was so much fine music, especially in Act I when the sonorous harmonies of the septet helped to limn the various concerns of each character.  In Act II, Malvina's lament "Stella nemica infausta" was incredibly moving and her duet with Morna was outstanding as well.  Prince Arthur gets his best moments in Act III with his aria "L'orror mi rese immobile" and he also gets a fiery cabaletta

Peter Szep was chorus master and we found the choral numbers to be well prepared.

We can add this one to our wish list of operas we'd like to see produced! Imagine bringing back to life a work that lay dormant for over a century and a half!  Our appreciation goes to everyone involved.

For those of you who would like more detailed information on this stunning work, we refer you to Thea Cook's highly informative article...http://vpropera.org/site/2016/05/07/pacini-and-malvina-di-scozia-a-history/

(c) meche kroop

THE ART OF THE ART SONG

Thomas Muraco
Winnie Nieh

























As a rule we do not review rehearsals, but tomorrow's performance of ASPS (The Art Song Preservation Society) conflicts with a prior reviewing commitment and we did not want to miss the opportunity of hearing soprano Winnie Nieh singing some of our favorite lieder, with the esteemed Thomas Muraco as her collaborative pianist.

Any afficionado of art song would be delighted by the program and we sincerely wish that all of you will be able to squeeze into Christ and St. Stephen's Episcopal Church on W. 69th St. for the 3:00 recital. From what we witnessed yesterday, the program promises to provide deep aural and emotional satisfaction.

We know Ms. Nieh from her several performances with Utopia Opera and are so glad that she keeps garnering prizes and interesting roles.  She is an emerging artist with a great deal going for her. Her voice is pure, sweet, and well-focused--able to soar above piano or orchestra. Her German is as good as it gets with every word understandable.

In the set of songs by Franz Schubert, we had trouble choosing a favorite, since each one brought out different colors. In "Im Frühling", Schubert switches between major and minor and Ms. Nieh colored her voice appropriately for this bittersweet tale of love and sorrow.

In the contemplative "Nacht und Träume", Mr. Muraco's playing had a spiritual feeling. He emphasized the key change, a subtle but nonetheless jolting modulation--and Ms. Nieh matched him perfectly.

The rhythmic "Der Musensohn" made us want to get up and dance and the tender "Sei mir gegrüsst" brought tears to our eyes.  And if you are unable to feel for the young lady confiding her woes to her mother in "Die Männer sind méchant", you were never a teenager! This song truly allowed Ms. Nieh's acting skills to emerge.

A set of Hugo Wolf songs, with texts by Eduard Mörike, filled us with delight. "Der Knabe und das Immlein" is a real charmer and Mr. Muraco's piano provided the buzzing bee. The humorous play on words in "Elfenlied" provided further pleasures, as did the playful "Mausfallen-Sprüchlein". The two artists excelled in "Nixe Binsefuss" with Mr. Muraco playing what we called "fairy music" when we were small.

That was fine to end on because earlier we were close to weeping again when the pair performed "Das verlassene Mägdlein", one of the saddest songs with which we are familiar. Again, Ms. Nieh's fine acting put the song across just as Wolf intended. The attention to text and music vividly brought the picture to the mind's eye.

Mezzo-soprano Emily d'Angelo, a Metropolitan Opera National Council Award winner, will be performing some of our favorite songs by Brahms and this should bring further delights which we regret we will miss.

The second half of the program will be sung in French with Thomas Grubb taking over as collaborative pianist. Mezzo-soprano Sahoko Sato Timpone will sing selections from Hector Berlioz' Les Nuits d'Eté with text by Théophile Gautier and La Chanson d'Eve by Gabriel Fauré.

Baritone Robert Brandt will perform selections from Maurice Ravel's Deux Epigrammes de Clément Marot and from Histoires Naturelles.

It promises to be a most worthwhile afternoon! ASPS exists to promote the art song repertoire and the artists that perform it. We love their motto--"Where music speaks and words sing".  Most apt.

(c) meche kroop