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, September 16, 2017


Onstage--Alexis Cregger, Nate Mattingly, Maestro Fernando Palomeque, Madison Marie McIntosh, Ivan Ramiro, Brian Alvarado, Andrea Howland, and Mark Watson

A couple years ago we learned that opera lives across the East River, and last night we realized that opera lives across the Hudson as well.  Under the stewardship of General Director/soprano Mia Riker-Norrie, Opera Theatre Montclair has developed quite a loyal following in the community and created a sizable and devoted audience. Rossini's La Cenerentola was the perfect choice for a full-scale production.

We were not the only outsiders lured to New Jersey. Sharing our enthusiasm was retired soprano Elinor Ross, Maestro Keith Chambers of New Amsterdam Opera, and heartthrob tenor Vittorio Grigolo. What drew us was an opportunity to hear one of our favorite young artists perform what must be called her "signature role". Mezzo-soprano Madison Marie McIntosh first came to our attention four years ago when we decided she was someone to watch.

This lovely young woman has it all--talent, looks, and enough intelligence to direct her career, as well as the dedication to make it happen. Having changed her fach from soprano to mezzo-soprano, she has retained the brilliance and flexibility necessary for bel canto singing and seems to be expanding the resonance of her lower register. We have never enjoyed "Non piu mesta" more!

The dramatic skills she evinced in the leading role were matched by the rest of the cast in a theatrically involving production of Rossini's tuneful and touching comedy.  Responsible for the inspired direction was counter-tenor Nicholas Tamagna who framed the opera as a silent movie of the 1920's, with the film-director portrayed by bass-baritone Mark Watson, who also sang the role of Alidoro, Prince Ramiro's tutor. David Gillam's gorgeous costume designs evoked the styles of Poiret.

The singing was excellent all around with Alexis Cregger creating a Clorinda of powerful dramatic import. We have reviewed this superb soprano on multiple occasions and have always admired her gleaming tone and connection with the material. As her equally obnoxious sister Tisbe we enjoyed the on point performance of mezzo-soprano Andrea Howland whom we would be happy to hear again. The two nasty sisters worked well together.

As their father, bass-baritone Nate Mattingly, sporting a delightfully ridiculous hairstyle, won us over with a creamy tone, apt phrasing, and excellent comic timing. This is another young artist to watch and we expect that the future holds more development at the bass end of his range.

Tenor Ivan Rivera exhibited an easy bel canto technique and stood out in his aria "Si, ritrovarla io giuro". As his valet Dandini, baritone Brian Alvarado handled his role well and was the perfect foil as he exchanged roles with the Prince and bamboozled Angelina's family.

For us, the most touching moment of the opera was when Angelina tells Dandini, thinking him to be the Prince, that she couldn't marry him because her heart belonged to someone else--the someone else, of course, being the Prince who was disguised as his own valet. At this point, Ms. McIntosh made Angelina's innocence perfectly clear and perfectly adorable.

Adorable in a different way was the hilarious burlesque spectacle of Ms. Riker-Norrie--alias "Mia Vergogna" who sang and tap-danced her way into our heart during a scene change, a lagniappe to be sure!

The chorus of seven men were well-rehearsed and created Angelina's coach in a stunning and imaginative scene. Donning papier mache horse heads, they pulled an imaginary coach the wheels of which were twirling umbrellas. We always appreciate creativity more than expensive sets.

Maestro Fernando Palomeque, whom we heard just this week in a piano recital at the Argentinean Consulate, effectively led the orchestra through Rossini's bubbly score. The orchestra was placed at seating level off to one side so that the opera could be performed both onstage and also below at orchestra level.  This arrangement worked well and the United Way Theatre served well as a home for this production.

Finally, it deserves to be noted that the Italian diction was fine all across the board, but was augmented by projected titles.

This same cast will be performing next Friday night at 8:00 with a partly different cast performing today and next Saturday at 4:00.

(c) meche kroop

Tuesday, August 29, 2017


Corrie Stallings, Simon Dyer, and Kara Morgan in scene from Domenico Cimarosa's Il matrimonio segreto at Santa Fe Opera (photo by Bobby Gutierrez)

We've been back from Santa Fe for a week now and the arrival of photos from the second evening of scenes presented by the apprentices served to bring back so many happy memories of an outstanding evening at Santa Fe Opera.  It will be a year until we return and return we will!

As usual, the group of apprentices were astutely selected, and a most interesting selection of scenes were chosen to highlight their individual talents. Certain scenes stood out for their effectiveness. We loved the scene from Richard Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier in which Octavian presents the silver rose to Sophie (the wonderful soprano Liv Redpath) who is engaged to his boorish cousin Baron Ochs (not present in this scene).

What blew us away was the completely believable performance of mezzo-soprano Samantha Gossard who not only sang magnificently but was totally convincing in her portrayal of a 17-year-old aristocratic youth--confident almost to the point of entitlement, but touched by Sophie's innocence.  Imagine our shock when we met Ms. Gossett offstage and perceived her overwhelming femininity. Now that's acting!

Sophie's father Herr Von Faninal was portrayed by baritone Kenneth Stavert with tenor Eric Ferring as the Haushofmeister and soprano Sarah Tucker as Marianne.

Readers are well aware how fond we are of zarzuela and the scene from Pablo Sorozabal's La Tabernera del Puerto was presented in exemplary fashion by lovely soprano Meryl Dominguez as Marola, a woman of questionable virtue, and tenor Rafael Moras singing his heart out as the sailor Leandro, in the well-known aria "No puede ser". His commitment to the role was total and the audience responded with wild applause. This just made us want to see the zarzuela in toto and we continue to believe there is an audience for zarzuela here in New York.

Casting an even wider net was the choice of Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.  Perhaps the composer does not think of this work as an opera but we have always considered it as such and the sensational casting convinced us that we are right. Bass James Harrington made a fine Judge Turpin discussing his plans for his ward Johanna (lovely soprano Andrea Lett) with the Beadle, sung by the always terrific tenor Adam Bonanni who tells him he needs a trip to the barber. Hehehe.

Meanwhile Johanna is frolicking with her young man Anthony, finely portrayed by the superb baritone Brian Vu, on the other side of the stage. Director Kathleen Clawson did her usual excellent work in highlighting the contrast of innocence and evil.

The photo used for this review was taken from a scene from Cimaroso's Il matrimonio segreto, a delightful comic opera of the classical period, the characters of which seem derived from commedia dell'arte. Carolina (super soprano Adelaide Boedecker) has eloped with her lover Paolina (fine tenor Paul Han) and is hiding from her father Il Signor Geronimo, enacted by bass-baritone Simon Dyer, who blusters beautifully.

Mezzo-soprano Corrie Stallings stood out as the envious sister Elisetta, not only for her fine singing but for her hilarious comic timing. Mezzo Kara Morgan sang the role of Aunt Fidalma with the handsome bass-baritone Erik Van Heyningen just right in the role of Il Conte Robinson who seems to be willing to marry either sister. The entire cast worked well together with directorial credit going again to Ms. Clawson who impresses us every summer.

Crystal Manich also had two scenes to direct. We loved the scene from Massenet's Werther in which the married Charlotte, movingly portrayed by mezzo-soprano Sarah Coit, must confront her feelings toward the eponymous Werther, sung by tenor Richard Smagur. Both artists were in admirable control of their vocal artistry and their dramatic intention. We believed every minute, in spite of being distracted by Werther's weird costume of unflattering and seemingly inappropriate short pants.

Ms. Manich's other scene was from Puccini's Edgar.  It was well performed by mezzo-soprano Morgan Middleton with tenor Peter Scott Drackley as the titular Edgar and baritone Thaddeus Ennen fine as his friend Frank. This is an early effort by Puccini and we can understand why it has not joined the canon.

A scene from Verdi's Falstaff was light-hearted and lively with all four women having great fun as they compare letters from the lecherous knight. Ms. Tucker was Alice Ford with soprano Joanna Latini as her daughter Nannetta. Meg Page was sung by mezzo-soprano Pascale Spinney and mezzo Mariya Kaganskaya as Mistress Quickly. Omer Ben Seadia's direction was on point but Katie Dennis' costuming was peculiar.

Finally, we had a scene from Igor Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress, featuring splendid soprano Jessica Jones as Anne Truelove and Mr. Harrington as her father. Tenor Terrence Chin-Loy portrayed the slacker Tom Rakewell who left plenty of room in his life for the seductive Nick Shadow, given an excellent reading by bass-baritone Tyler Zimmerman.

We always enjoy watching these highly talented emerging artists take the stage in major roles--even more than watching them onstage in major productions where they are given smaller roles. The Sunday night Apprentice Recitals give them their chance to shine and shine they did!

(c) meche kroop

Friday, August 25, 2017


Emily Hughes and Adria Caffaro (photo by Brian Long)

Joyce Yin (photo by Brian Long)

Last night we attended the final performance of Francesco Cavalli's l651 opera La Calisto, presented by Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble and directed most imaginatively by Brittany Goodwin, one of New York's most gifted young directors. We were amazed by the endurance of so many aspects of love that have remained unchanged in nearly four centuries.

The playing area was filled with nymphs and satyrs, gods and goddesses--strange figures to be sure; and yet their concerns are our concerns today.  The social media generation did not invent unfulfilled romantic longing, sexual dalliances overcoming chaste intentions, rejection, cross-dressing, lesbian love, romantic deception, nor vengeful wives. There was something particularly thrilling about seeing ourselves onstage in a work dating back nearly four centuries.  Not just thrilling but moving as well. Love and sex will always be with us until the robots take over!

It is difficult to believe that this marvelous work lay dormant until 1970.  How fortunate we are that it was discovered and revived.  It lets us in on what the mid 17th c. Venetians expected from a rather new popular art form. Cavalli was there at the birth of opera.

Impresario/librettist Giovanni Faustini had created many operas with Cavalli; this one was their penultimate production. The story was derived from Ovid's Metamorphosis and recounts the story of Jove pretending to be the goddess Diana in order to seduce the beautiful chaste Calisto. The tale is padded out with the love story between the real Diana and the shepherd Endimione. In every case, chastity falls under the weight of sexual desire. 

The wily Mercurio (fine tenor Brady DelVecchio) convinces Giove (authoritative baritone Mason Jarboe) that persuasion is no match for deception when trying to seduce a woman. Their duet was musically gorgeous and also quite humorous. 

In the title role, lovely soprano Emily Hughes  sang about wanting to lead a chaste life, devoted to the goddess Diana.  Giove transforms himself into Diana (beautifully sung by mezzo-soprano Adria Caffaro) and successfully seduces her. The two women had a tender duet before entering a cave to exchange chaste kisses (which led to much more).

When the real Diana appears her voice and gestures are very different and there is no doubt that she is the real thing. When Calisto refers to their makeout session, Diana is outraged by the inference and tosses Calisto out of the virginal sisterhood. 

Ms. Caffaro successfully used vocal coloration and altered her gestures and body movements so successfully that, although Calisto was fooled, we in the audience were not.

Diana, on her part, is secretly in love with the shepherd Endimione (counter-tenor Padraic Costello) who expresses his longing for her in the most exquisite aria.

The superb soprano Joyce Yin (Co-Founder of Cantanti Projects) provided comic relief in her portrayal of Linfea, one of Diana's followers, who longs for romance. In spite of her desperation, there is no way Linfea is going to settle for the importuning of Satirino (the fine mezzo-soprano Shawn Palmer, sporting a blue wig, goat horns and hooves), even though he tells her that he is young but his tail is still growing!  He is a member of the clutch of satyrs, of which the leader is the god Pane, portrayed by counter-tenor Raymond Storms. As Silvano, one of the satyrs, bass-baritone Angky Budiardjono turned in a fine and physical performance with secure vocalism.

Act II brought on new delights as Giunone, the jealous wife of Giove, appears to expose her husband's infidelity.  Mezzo-soprano Sophie Delphis gave her all to the revenge aria in which she instructs women not to put up with philandering husbands but rather to take revenge.  Her particular revenge is to transform Calisto into a bear. Giove cannot undo this curse but finds his beloved Calisto a place in the firmament as the constellation Ursa Major, a condition foretold in the Prologue.

Mezzo-soprano Allison Gish portrayed La Natura in the Prologue, with soprano Elyse Kakacek taking the role of L'Eternita and mezzo-soprano Jingye Xu appearing as Il Destino who convinces the other two that Calisto deserves her place in the heavens. The women also appeared as The Furies.

Cavalli's music is very singable and  a small chamber orchestra, such as was heard in its own time, did full justice to Cavalli's writing, led by the renowned Early Music specialist Charles Weaver who played theorbo, lute and Baroque guitar. The chamber orchestra also included two violins, a cello, harpsichord and a second theorbo.

Costume Designer Claire Townsend did much with little, relying on creativity rather than a huge budget. The costumes were fanciful and fun.  A fur coat with ears on the hood served as a bear costume. Most magnificent of all was Giunone's black and white costume with elaborate red tulle headdress which reminded us of the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland.

Satyrs had fur on their boots along with horns and tails. The Furies had big hoop skirts draped with black chiffon. Giove wore a suit and tie with fabric design of white clouds on blue background. Mercurio wore a pink suit with little golden wings on the heels of his shoes. Calisto's final costume was embellished with stars.

Diana wore a simple white gown whilst her followers wore funky garments with white knee-high stockings.

The set design by You-Shin Chen was simple, utilizing the same ramp seen in The Cunning Little Vixen. White columns were created with fabric hanging from the ceiling which could also be gathered and hoisted.

This was another fine entry in Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble's Summer Festival. There was a lot of wisdom in their choices of material--lesser known works that flowered under fine direction and casting. The emerging artists selected for this intense program of mentorship are to be applauded for their commitment to the art. 

(c) meche kroop

Thursday, August 24, 2017


Hyungjoo Eom (photo by Brian Long)

Rachel Hall (photo by Brian Long)
Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble has mounted an incredibly moving production of Leos Janacek's comic/tragic opera which has delighted opera goers for nearly a century. We have written about its origins and composition a number of times and readers are encouraged to enter the title in the search bar if they are curious.

At this moment, however, we prefer to focus on this production, which offered new insights, thanks to the thoughtful direction of Ashraf Sewailam. It is auspicious when a singer takes on the job of directing since he seems to know exactly what to do with the singers onstage. Mr. Sewailam is himself a bass-baritone.

We have seen and enjoyed this opera at least four times in the past couple years but were not prepared for the intense emotional impact of this production. Mr. Sewailam's connection with the piece was unmistakable and, consequently, so was ours. In this battle between the world of mankind and the world of nature, our heroine loses her life in a tragically senseless fashion and the hero is transformed by his experience.

Not only is the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth illuminated but also we are allowed to examine the activities of two-legged creatures through the eyes of those with four (or even six) legs. These creatures are anthropomorphized such that we in the audience get the opportunity to examine our own behavior and to raise vital questions about our existence on this planet Earth.

Power and politics also get explored in a new way. The libretto shows evidence of Marxist thought (the wealthy badger has no right to a big home all for himself when there is room for an entire fox family) and proto-feminism (Vixen Sharp-ears tries to liberate the subservient hens from the domination of the entitled rooster).

There are two scenes of marriage--one between the Vixen and her Fox, prompted by her pregnancy and woodland gossip--the other between the poacher Harasta and the gypsy Terynka. The former union is one of mutual respect and caring, taking place after a very human and tender courtship; the latter union involves the groom "buying" his wife with (what else?) a fox pelt and an act so symbolic and so affecting that we will not divulge it here. We want you, dear reader, to see this opera and experience the shocking act for yourself. It may have something to do with Mr. Sewailam's Egyptian background.

Not only is the storytelling way more compelling than usual, but the musical values were of equal quality in every respect. The sixteen-piece Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble Festival Orchestra responded to David Stech's vibrant conducting of Jonathan Dove's score reduction, giving Janacek's music all the right accents of Moravian folk melodies.

It was quite a feat for the young singers to learn the opera in Czech and our gratitude for this labor is boundless. There is nothing like hearing opera in its original language, and especially so in Czech; the marriage between word and music was as well balanced as that between the Vixen and the Fox!

For those of you who don't know the story, a Forester brings home a fox cub who is subjected to disdain from his wife and beatings from his children. In Mr. Sewailam's version, it is evident that his feelings for her are almost romantic. Like a bereft lover, he becomes angry when she runs away and keeps looking for her.

She falls in love and starts a family. She is strong, independent, and defiant. She outwits the poacher Harasta but eventually he shoots her and takes her pelt for his bride.  The Forrester grieves for her but consoles himself with nature and his awareness of the life cycle.

We haven't heard soprano Rachel Hall since her apprenticeship at Santa Fe Opera four years ago when we applauded her Norina. Her artistic growth is notable and we enjoyed her warm and rich soprano in the title role. Her phrasing honored the sound of the language and her acting was completely committed.

As the Forrester, we admired bass-baritone Hyungjoo Eom for his affecting portrayal as well as for his substantial sound. We have heard him a number of times in the past couple of years and have been impressed by his versatility.

We enjoyed soprano Stephanie Kim Johnson in the role of the Vixen's mate. Although the role is generally performed by a mezzo, there was still a nice contrast with Ms. Hall's voice and a meaningfully tender portrayal.

Summoned at the last minute as a replacement for the role of the Dragonfly was Brittany Goodwin, director of La Calisto (which we will see tonight).  That girl can dance! So much talent in such a petite person!

Tenor Jeremy Brauner made a fine Schoolmaster, garnering laughs as he stumbled home drunkenly with his cane, confusing a sunflower for the lusted-for Terynka. He was even funnier as a mosquito, thanks to some clever use of props.

Soprano Zoe Marie Hart (well known to us from Utopia Opera) did well as the young Vixen. As the family dog Lapak, mezzo-soprano Inbal Milliger created a believable canine and sang with substantial tone.

Harasta, the devious poacher,  was sung well by baritone Joshua Miller.

Kristi Esch successfully employed her deep voice to portray the Forrester's disagreeable wife. Bass Brian Alvarado doubled as the grumpy Badger and the Greek-quoting Parson who once had a secret love.

Camilo Estrada took the role of Pasek, the tavern keeper; his wife Paskova was sung by Lisa Flanagan who also played the humorous hen Chocholka.

The singers who took on several small roles were also fine, including Samantha Scully, Lauren Glaves, Sarah Daniels, and Lisa Flanagan.

Much credit for the success of the production goes to Costume Designer Claire Townsend who put streetwear to good use by mixing pieces eclectically and cleverly to create costumes that worked well and suited each character. Makeup and Hair Design by Georgina Eberhard completed the illusion.

Scenic Designer You-Shin Chen made much of little--some hedges and a ramp, a table and chairs. It was the clever use of props that put us into a world of make-believe.

Were you waiting for the obligatory quibble?  Here it is. Harasta's use of a pistol seemed wrong, as did the one-time use of iPhone and iPad.

There will be two more performances--Friday night and Sunday matinee. You would do well to try to snag a ticket for this illuminating production. You may leave at the end with tears in your eyes (as we did) but they will be blissfully cathartic.

(c)  meche kroop

Monday, August 21, 2017


Stephen Carroll, Devon Guthrie, and Kurt Streit in Santa Fe Opera's production of Die Fledermaus
The other night we enjoyed a delicious "Ile Flottante" for dessert at Olivier.  It was a puffy ball of soft meringue,  light and airy, floating on a pool of delicious sweet custard. It left us smiling and satisfied. It is that image that kept coming to mind during Johann Strauss' delightful opera as presented by Santa Fe Opera.

Credit for this delight can be shared by the exemplary cast, all of whom possessed impressive comic chops, and a delightful production that emphasized the frivolous French farce nature of the work. The preamble to the story is that Herr Eisenstein (tenor Kurt Streit) once played a nasty prank on his friend Dr. Falke (baritone Joshua Hopkins). abandoning the drunken doctor on a park bench one night in full bat costume.

Dr. Falke has arranged an elaborate revenge, inviting Eisenstein to a fancy masked ball hosted by the eccentric aristocrat Prince Orlovsky (mezzo Susan Graham in travesti and very very funny). Eisenstein is quite a flirt and seizes the invitation, even though he is supposed to report to jail for a brief sentence that has been extended by the supposed stupidity of his lawyer Dr. Blind (Apprentice Singer tenor Stephen Carroll).

Dr. Falke's plot will not only exact revenge but will be a source of "innocent merriment" for the bored Prince. He has invited Eisenstein's wife Rosalinda (the superlative soprano Devon Guthrie) who will pretend to be an Hungarian countess and seduce her clueless husband.  He has also invited Adele, the Eisenstein's pretentious chambermaid (splendid soprano Jane Archibald), who will pretend to be a Russian actress.

Ms. Archibald dazzled in her "laughing song" and Ms. Guthrie knocked our socks off with her paean to her "Hungarian homeland". All of the coloratura was finely rendered and as exciting as could be.

Bass-baritone David Govertsen was excellent in the role of Frank, the Warden of the jail.  He also is at the party, pretending to be a French Chevalier and speaking ridiculous pidgin French with Eisenstein who was pretending to be a Marquis.

In the role of the jailer Frosch, we had the bass-baritone Kevin Burdette. We have always enjoyed his singing but never knew how totally hilarious he could be. His performance in the final act was filled with pratfalls and sight-gags.

As the Italian Tenor, Dimitri Pittas serenaded Rosalinda in Act I and went to jail in place of her husband.

Adele's sister Ida was finely performed by Apprentice Singer soprano Adelaide Boedecker.  Everyone performed as a finely tuned ensemble, giving the work a fine unity.

Maestro Nicholas Carter wielded his baton with panache and the lively waltzes kept us swaying in our seat. Ned Canty's direction kept things moving at break-neck pace. Zack Brown and Christianne Meyers' Costume Design was perfectly suited to late 19th c. Vienna when Waltz was King.  Allen Moyer's sets were exactly right.  Act I suggested an upper class Viennese home; Act II recreated a splendid palace ballroom with all kinds of hanky-panky going on.  The jail of Act III was also true to time and place.

Sean Curran's choreography featured a quartet of ballet dancers performing what resembled a Viennese interpretation of the French Can-Can. Risque for sure but not too risque if you want to bring your youngsters. The young man in the row behind us stayed awake, didn't wriggle, and had a wonderful time, as he told us after the performance.

As we have come to expect, Susanne Sheston's chorus of Apprentice Singers performed admirably and looked sensational in the ballroom scene.

Regular readers know that we always have a little quibble, even when we love a performance.  Our quibble for this production is that it was sung in English. We greatly prefer the original German, although we admit that the singers' diction could not be faulted. Our favorite way to hear this operetta is with English dialogue and German singing. The translation and additional dialogue seemed to suit the audience, even when it didn't pass our test!

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, August 19, 2017


Kevin Burdette, Tim Mix, and Meredith Arwady in Rimsky-Korsakov's The Golden Cockerel

We well recall the moment that we fell in love with classical music.  Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade was playing on the radio and we were hooked. What a thrill for us to have seen his final opera The Golden Cockerel twice within three months. Last night we enjoyed the production by Santa Fe Opera (a co-production with The Dallas Opera) and felt the same delight in the composer's exotic melodic line and lush orchestration, so sensitively realized by Maestro Emmanuel Villaume.

On a day remembered as Bloody Sunday in Russia, the Tsar's forces massacred some peaceful protestors who were unhappy about their living conditions but also about the ill-fated Russo-Japanese War.  The composer Rimsky-Korsakov supported the protestors and thereby lost his job as head of the conservatory. Perhaps in protest he chose to set The Golden Cockerel as a satire of autocracy and Russian imperialism. This would be his last opera; he completed it in 1907 but it was banned by the Palace. It premiered 2 years later but the master had already died.

The libretto was written by Vladimir Belsky who based it upon an invented fairytale by Alexander Pushkin who, in turn, based his work on some stories by our very own Washington Irving!  How about that! Real fairytales are folktales handed down over centuries so we feel confident in calling this one invented.

King Dodon's astrologer presents him with a golden bird who will warn him of political danger and gets promised whatever he wants in return. War is declared whilst Dodon lazes about at home, relying on the bird's advice. Dodon's sons kill each other on the battlefield and Dodon himself must go to battle.. In the kingdom of Shemakh he meets the seductive Queen Shemakha who extracts a promise of marriage and returns home with him. The astrologer claims his reward--the Queen.  He will accept no less. Dodon kills him. The Golden Cockerel kills Dodon.

As the bumbling King Dodon, we heard baritone Tim Mix whose characterization was as on the mark as his singing. Sporting a red "fat suit" and curled up on a huge throne, he made quite an impression on us. But an even greater impression was made when he mounted a large wooden horse, facing backward!

As the exotic temptress from The East--the Queen of Shamakha--soprano Venera Gimadieva tickled our ears with both long lyrical lines of pure sound and volleys of wickedly challenging ornamentation which she made appear effortless. Fortunately, she also possesses physical beauty sufficient for the part, since she was obliged to perform a serious strip tease to ensnare the dense Dodon.

Contralto Meredith Arwady has a sensational instrument of great depth. She created a marvelous version of Amelfa, Dodon's housekeeper/caretaker and brought a great deal of humor to her portrayal. The scene in which she cradles him on his huge throne was unforgettable.

The General of bass Kevin Burdette was perfectly sung and acted. If King Dodon had listened to his advice the entire tale might have ended differently.

The title role was sung by a very special member of the Apprentice Program.  Soprano Kasia Borowiec has been on our radar since her student days at Manhattan School of Music and has always impressed us.  What a joy to witness her artistic growth in last night's dazzling performance. Unfortunately, in this production, she sings from offstage, but we did have the opportunity to attest to her stage presence in Sunday night's Apprentice Scenes.

Several more apprentices delivered auspicious performances.  We heard tenor Richard Smagur as Prince Guidon and baritone Jorge Espino as Prince Afron. The two rivalrous siblings wind up killing each other on the battlefield.

Tenor Adam Bonanni made a fine showing as the First Boyar, whilst bass Simon Dyer did so as the Second Boyar. As expected, the chorus, under the astute direction of Susanne Sheston, performed magnificently.

Barry Banks utilized his very high tenor as The Astrologer, a mysterious character who may or may not be "real".

Director Paul Curran had some truly excellent ideas although we take exception to two choices that seemed to violate the intent of the concept. When the Queen of Shemakha capriciously demands the (offstage) beheading of The General, it seemed tasteless to us to have paraded the severed head around the stage.  Just plain "EWWW".

Secondly, there was no justification for King Dodon to appear in a contemporary suit with a red tie in the closing scene. Similarly, the Queen of Shamakha had exchanged her finery for a white dress and sunglasses. We expect that a large percentage of members of the audience, presented with an autocratic ruler who is an inept politician, might have been considering the present political situation in the United States. But that's the kind of association that should be made in one's thoughts, not concretized onstage.

But we loved the scene in which the Queen is tryig to get the flat-footed Dodon to sing and dance!

The fantastic nature of the tale was realized by the fantastic nature of the sets and costumes by Gary McCann. King Dodon loafed about in red pajamas but went to battle in stylized armor, and courted in magnificent robes. The Queen of Shamakha wore a fantastic headdress and a slinky turquoise gown which she shed in pieces. Amelfa's costume was a wild exaggeration of peasant attire and grotesque make-up.

The other costumes were wildly colorful and fantastically exaggerated with tall black fur hats on the men. The handmaidens of The Queen were dressed in long white gowns and bore huge feathered fans with which they surrounded the Queen as she changed costumes, an impressive visual spectacle.

The set resembled a skateboarding half-pipe, all curves upon which were projected animations of the Golden Cockerel, strange astrological symbols, and line-drawings of the creatures of Dodon's dreams. Driscoll Otto was responsible for this surge of imaginative creativity.

Eye candy and ear candy joined to create an evening in which entertainment was wed to high artistic values.

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, August 16, 2017


Ed Parks as Steve Jobs with Santa Fe Opera Chorus

How ironic!  We are sitting here writing about The R(evolution) of Steve Jobs which we saw last night at the Santa Fe Opera; and we are writing on our MacBook because our iMac is home in New York City. Our iPhone is on the table charging even as we write. Our iPad is languishing in our carry-on bag, waiting to entertain us on our trip home. How can one take the measure of a man who has changed our lives so significantly that we cannot imagine surviving without our devices!

Perhaps all we can do to honor such a sea-change is to write about it, play about it, and sing about it. What has been accomplished by the production team for this opera merits all the laudatory words that have been written. What shall we add to the accolades?

Regular readers of this blog will recall how often we denigrate contemporary compositions with their tuneless and abstract music, their wordy unpoetic libretti, and stories that do not lend themselves to musical treatment. None of that is true here. Instead of a story about politics we have a portrait of a fascinatingly inconsistent and puzzling genius who made technology musical, an instrument anyone can play.

In place of sounds masquerading as music, we have composer Mason Bates' eclectic score that seamlessly melds of-the-moment electronics with traditional orchestral music in a manner that honors both genres. Even acoustic guitar, so much a part of Steve Jobs' world, puts in an appearance.

Mark Campbell's libretto is punchy like the English language with short rhythmic phrases, and reminds one of the effective work done for Broadway musicals. It is such an acoustic pleasure to hear words and music acting in harmony, instead of at cross purposes.

In baritone Ed Parks, the opera has found the perfect embodiment of the complicated hero. Every shading of mood was conveyed and we wound up feeling sympathy for this difficult character--a genius troubled by perfectionism, obsessionality, emotional isolation, and narcissism.

As his spiritual guide Kobun, bass Wei Wu created a marvelous character filled with pithy advice delivered with humor. Mr. Mason gave him a splendid aria that would make a superb audition piece for the bass fach. As performed by Mr. Wu, we could understand how he was able to get through to the stubborn Jobs.

The other person who was able to get through to him was his wife Laurene, beautifully sung by mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke. Her lengthy eulogy at the end of the opera was filled with insight and sung to some of Mr. Mason's most gorgeous music.

Garret Sorenson employed his tenor most effectively in the role of Jobs' early partner Steve Wozniak. The scene in which they end their partnership was emotionally devastating, as were the two scenes in which Jobs abandons his girlfriend Chrisann Brennan and denies fathering their chid. Apprentice Singer Jessica E. Jones conveyed all the pain and shock of rejection and did so with fine vocal technique.

Apprentice Singer Mariya Kaganskaya used her fine mezzo instrument in the role of a teacher at Reed College, explaining the significance of the "enso", a calligraphic character that inspired Jobs toward simplicity. For us, it seemed to reflect the concept of coming full circle as exemplified by the opera beginning and ending with a scene from Jobs' childhood, a scene in which his father (former Apprentice baritone Kelly Markgraf) initiates the young Jobs (Joshua Sorenson) into the world of making things.

Mr. Mason's score (conducted by Maestro Michael Christie) is eclectic and eminently listenable. Each character was endowed with his/her own sound world. There were passages of minimalism reminiscent of Steve Reich and Phillip Glass, cheek by jowl with lush and lavishly orchestrated passages; so thoroughly integrated were the various elements that nothing seemed out of place. Acoustic guitar, electronic sounds, and instruments of the Far East were woven in and out at appropriate places.

In what Wagner might have called a gesamtkunstwerk, the sets and costumes were all of a piece with the music and libretto. Victoria "Vita" Tzykun filled the stage with tall rectangular pillars that were moved around to create various effects, with the help of projections by 59 Productions. Some scenes seemed to take place inside a computer with projections of a mother board. Others showed the home page of the iPhone.

We loved the scene in which he and Chrisann are dropping acid in an apple orchard (the only reference to "apple" in the opera). Jobs hears the music inherent in nature and is inspired by the idea that a computer can be like an instrument that one plays. This thought served to justify the use of computer sounds in Mason's music and to justify writing music about someone who appears more technological than artistic.  We left with the idea that there is artistry everywhere and that Ms. Tzykun set design showed the artistic side of technology just as Jobs' made technology artistic--witness the fact that we have never been able to discard our first computer--a 1999 "clamshell", so simple and elegant that it overcame our Luddite tendencies.

Director Kevin Newbury kept the action moving along, with the excellent Apprentice Singers in charge of moving the sets around, in addition to performing in such exemplary fashion as the chorus, under the direction of Susanne Sheston.

Paul Carey's costumes were appropriate to time and place. Responsible for Sound Design were Rick Jacobsohn and Brian Loach. What this means in practice is that the voices were subtly amplified; we say "subtly" because the amplification was barely noticeable and the balance between singers and instrumentalists was preserved.

(c) meche kroop