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.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

THE GARDEN OF JUILLIARD

Christine Taylor Price, Marie Engle, Joshua Blue, Tamara Banješević, and Jacob Scharfman (photo by Hiroyuki Ito)

Mozart was just shy of 19 years of age when he composed La finta giardiniera which premiered in Munich in 1775. In spite of a trivial libretto (insecurely attributed to Calzabigi), one can readily appreciate Mozart's exuberant melodic invention and skills at orchestration. The opera achieved but 3 performances and fell out of the repertory until a copy of the score was rediscovered in the 1970's.

That we have seen the opera three times in two years gives some indication of the many glories of the score and the challenging roles it provides for seven singers. The seven we heard last night at Juilliard Opera seemed to enjoy their performances as much as we in the audience did. What vocal glories!

We love to see romantic foibles onstage--the mismatches, the betrayals, the fights, the reconciliations. We have no need for modern sets or costumes to recognize our own passions and obsessions.  The blind child shoots those darts and we are helpless.

The Marchioness Violante Onesti (splendid soprano Tamara Banješević) had been stabbed by her jealous lover Conte Belfiore (terrific tenor Charles Sy) on their wedding day. Left for dead, she recovered, took the name of Sandrina, disguised herself as a gardener, and sought refuge by gaining employment at the estate of the Podesta Don Anchise (tremendous tenor Joshua Blue) who has fallen in love with her.

The Podesta's housekeeper Serpetta, portrayed by the gifted soprano Christine Taylor Price, would like to marry her boss and fights off the courtship of the gardener Nardo, Violante's servant Roberto in disguise--a role delightfully inhabited by Baritone Jacob Scharfman.

Meanwhile, the Podesta's bossy-pants niece Arminda (glorious voiced soprano Kathryn Henry) arrives at the estate to be joined in matrimony with none other than Belfiore. If we could overlook his tendency to commit violence on his brides, we might even feel a tinge of pity for the ambivalent count. He thinks he recognizes Violante in disguise but she denies her identity.

In the role of Cavalier Ramiro, Arminda's rejected suitor, we heard the marvelously convincing mezzo-soprano Marie Engle in travesti.

To make this crazy mixed up story clear, we had the talented young director Mary Birnbaum who has a very special way of getting her cast to work as an ensemble and to interact in believable ways, no matter how preposterous the story.

The first act moved along at a lively clip but there was a scene at the end of the second act that baffled us and our companion. It is the scene in which Belfiore goes mad and Violante gets kidnapped by Arminda (or was it vice versa?). When Tim Albery directed this opera at Santa Fe Opera, it didn't make much sense either and when Eric Einhorn directed it for On Site Opera, he omitted the scene entirely which was probably the best choice!

Both Ms. Henry and Ms. Prize dazzled us with their coloratura but the aria we remember best belonged to Ms. Engle who managed the extensive fioritura while conveying masculinity at the same time in "Va pure ad altri in braccio". Not only does everyone get an aria but there are interesting ensembles that foreshadow Mozart's later works.
 

Another memorable moment was Nardo's courting of Serpetta in several languages; Mr. Scharfman was irresistible in the role.  Mr. Blue pompously strutted around the stage but also conveyed the manner of a kind man. Ms. Henry did a great job creating a real bitch of a character. We loved the moment when she arrived with a horse and her servant Giuseppe (bass William Guanbo Su).

The Juilliard Orchestra performed in their usual exemplary fashion under the baton of Joseph Colaneri who brought subtle understanding to the various and changeable moods of the work. The continuo comprised Michael Biel on the harpsichord and Clara Abel on the cello.

Much favorable comment could be devoted to Amanda Seymour's luscious period costumes and even more to scenic designer Grace Laubacher's witty sets. After a clever prologue in which Joan Hofmeyr and Olivia McMillan portrayed two gossipy housemaids relating the backstory in English (another one of Mary Birnbaum's clever inventions), servants carried in trompe l'oeil set pieces. Even the horse was two dimensional but reared convincingly.

Lighting Designer Anshuman Bhatia spared no effort in changing the mood; one scene takes place in near darkness and the ensuing confusion reminded us of the final act of Nozze di Figaro.

Once again, Juilliard Opera has given us a memorable evening in which superlative production values provide a setting for the splendid singers--the jewels of Juilliard.


(c) meche kroop

Friday, November 17, 2017

GIANNI SCHICCHI ARE OPERA

Brett Vogel, Timothy Madden, Helaine Liebman, Drew Seigla, Allison Gish, Jay Lucas Chacon, Alanna Fraize, and Eamon Pereyra

This is the 100th anniversary of the premiere of Puccini's Il Trittico, of which Gianni Schicchi was the last of three one-act operas. It is the most popular of the three, probably because it not only contains some gorgeous melodies but because Giovacchino Forzano's libretto is hilarious. Forzano based his libretto on a minor character in Dante's Divine Comedy--actually a real live person in 13th c. Florence. Many of the characters have roots in commedia dell'arte.

Last night we attended the opening night of this masterpiece presented by ARE Opera at the Kraine Theater,  the sightlines of which make every seat a good one. The opera will be performed through Sunday.  ARE stands for "accessible. relatable, and enjoyable". Judging by the whooping and applause at the conclusion of the evening, they have found their audience.

The company debuted last May with a stellar production of Rossini's Cenerentola, with the audience surrounding the action, a situation that enhanced the immersive quality. In spite of admirable musical values, last night's production felt more alienating than involving. We don't attribute this alienation to the proscenium type stage. We sat on the front row but did not feel involved.

Although we have sometimes enjoyed an opera brought up to date, in this case we did not for many reasons. When we see operas set in other time periods we like to do the work ourselves, the work of considering how the desires and fears of the characters are echoed in the present time. We think of lovers we know who have been betrayed, of fathers who have alienated their children, of people who put duty ahead of desire. To have a director try so hard to make a point feels like spoon-feeding. 

It is likely that there were not many Italophones in the audience, but for us, or anyone who is familiar with the libretto, to hear the libretto sung accurately (and beautifully sung we might add) whilst the projected subtitles are saying something completely different, is disturbing. The libretto was shoehorned into a concept that only an inexperienced director (or one who directs cinema perhaps) would devise.

Singing about the New York skyline is just lacking in the flavor of Florence. The dead aristocrat Buoso lives on Park Avenue and is wearing a red onesie. His aristocratic family grasping after his inheritance bore no resemblance to the wealthy folk of Manhattan. The wealthy folk of today contest wills in court. The story loses its significance in the updating.

Instead of leaving his money to the monks, this Buoso left it to the Make-a-Wish Foundation. It is one thing to laugh at a medieval man leaving his land and his mill and his mule to the monks; it is quite another thing for a 21st c. man to leave his yacht and his home in the Hamptons to an organization that fills the dying wishes of children with cancer.  When the titles read about the family's scornful opinion of dying children, it just ISN'T FUNNY!

When the notary arrives, in this case an attorney we imagine, he is accompanied not by a cobbler and a dyer but by a "stylist".  We suppose he styled the red onesie!

Dr. Spinelloccio, as the titles indicate "Johns Hopkins and Harvard trained", is dressed in slovenly fashion, a doctor that no Park Avenue resident would employ as personal physician.

Schicchi threatening the family with prison if they reveal his duplicity does not carry the same weight as the threat of cutting off the hand, as the libretto indicates.  It is a marvelous moment in the opera when Schicchi dictates his will to the notary and waves his hand in the air to warn the family.

We could go on and on about the failures of this concept and its execution. But the audience laughed and presumably had a great time. They obviously found it more "relatable" than we did.

We rather chose to focus on the performances which were all fine. Baritone Patrick McNally made a wily Schicchi and seemed very much at home in the role. The program contained no bios but we warrant that he has performed this role before. We liked the fullness of his voice and his dramatic instincts.

Tenor Eamon Pereyra sang sweetly as Rinuccio and aced his big aria "Firenze e comé un albero fiorioto"; Rinuccio wants very much to marry Schicchi's daughter Lauretta, beautifully sung by Rachel Policar who gave us a lovely "O mio babbino caro" with the titles telling us that she would throw herself into the East River if she couldn't go to Tiffany's for a ring. The two also had a lovely duet together--"Lauretta mia".

As Rinuccio's Zia Zita, mezzo-soprano Allison Gish employed her substantial instrument and stage presence to create a character. She seemed to be a bit over-directed as an alcoholic.

Timothy Madden's deeply resonant bass-baritone was just right for the role of Simone, the eldest and the wisest among the family.  Baritone Jay Lucas Chacon made a fine Marco with mezzo-soprano Alanna Fraize equally fine as his wife. But her exercising him on the floor of the dead Buoso made it look as if she were a visiting yoga teacher. Just another example of an inexperienced director trying too hard.

Tenor Drew Seigla sang the role of Gherardo with soprano Helaine Liebman performing his wife Nella.  Instead of the little boy Gherardino they had a very spoiled daughter Gherardina (Ella Scronic Jaffe) who kept holding her papa up for funds.

The role of Betto was well sung by bass Brett Vogel. Betto is the "poor relation" and an opportunity was missed to dress him less fashionably than the others. But the others were not stylishly dressed.  The family is supposed to resent Schicchi for being a peasant but in this production he was the most elegant one onstage.

Bass Alexander Sheerin was effective as Dottore Spinelloccio, in spite of the slovenly attire. Baritone Andrew O'Shanick portrayed the notary/attorney and actually looked right for the part. His two witnesses were the basses Steven Ralph and Nathanael Taylor.

Maestro Jonathan Heaney conducted with his customary sure hand and Andrew Sun played the keyboard as if it were the full orchestra. 

In sum, all the singers performed admirably but deserved better direction. We want to believe what we see onstage!

We admire ARE Opera for their mission and they have certainly engaged the audience and have brought opera to the public for a very modest ticket price. They also have a mission of engaging youth and have programs to foster opera appreciation in the schools and programs to prepare high school students for conservatory auditions. They deserve your support.

(c) meche kroop

Thursday, November 16, 2017

INTO THE CRYPT WITH SALLY HEMINGS

Michael Fennelly and Alyson Cambridge

There is something both grand and spooky about descending several flights of stairs to The Crypt Chapel of the Church of the Intercession.  The high-ceilinged and resonant space gives one a sense of the importance of what will take place there; indeed last night's performance fulfilled that expectation. Unison Media's Andrew Ousley always has something unique to offer in his Crypt Sessions!

What we experienced last night was a piece entitled From the Diary of Sally Hemings; Ms. Hemmings was a slave of our third POTUS Thomas Jefferson, a mulatto woman who became his common-law wife. The text by Sandra Seaton, a librettist and playwright, can be thought of almost as a work of historical fiction. Ms. Hemings may have been quite literate but she left no diary that historians know of. If she kept one it was destroyed.

So this is a work of imagination, not one of historical accuracy. It is Ms. Seaton's idea of what Ms. Hemings might have felt in her life journey, one of extraordinary privilege combined with slights and insults. She accompanied Jefferson to Paris and returned with him to Monticello. She bore him children, none of whom remained in slavery. She learned French and was dressed in high fashion.

What we didn't know was that she and Martha Wayles (Jefferson's beloved wife) were half-sisters! Martha's father John Wayles formed an alliance with his housekeeper Elizabeth after Martha's mother died.  Sally was a child of that union. Similarly, Jefferson formed an alliance with Sally after Martha died. 

We couldn't help wondering whether Jefferson fell in love with Sally because she reminded him of his late wife whom he adored. Reading the text we wondered whether Sally loved Jefferson or saw him only as a kind "Master" who gave her extraordinary privileges. It is almost impossible for a 21st c. person to imagine life on a slave holding plantation over two centuries ago.  We do not judge what we cannot understand.

There is something we do know (or think we know) that Ms. Seaton omitted from the story. She has claimed that Jefferson did not have any affairs or love any other women after his wife died. This would tend to put Sally on some kind of pedestal. But no mention was made of Maria Cosway!

Ms. Cosway was an unhappily married Italian woman living in London. She met Jefferson during his stay in Paris as United States Minister to France, whilst Sally was purported to be accompanying him. Jefferson and Cosway had an intense meeting of the minds and shared a love of the arts; it was a friendship that endured until his death but was expressed mainly through letters, which have been researched by historians. They were rarely alone and it is not known whether their love was consummated or not. But it is known that she, a composer, sent several of her compositions to Jefferson and they exchanged letters expressing deep devotion and encouragement.

It might have made an interesting addition to the story to speculate upon the effects that this relationship had on Ms. Hemings! Nonetheless, the absence of this piece of information did nothing to impair the effect of hearing this monodrama, with music by the highly eclectic composer William Bolcom. Our affection for Mr. Bolcom's music rests mainly on his "Song of Black Max", a cabaret song we have reviewed multiple times, most recently just five days ago at the Opera Index party.

But Mr. Bolcom writes with great eclecticism and we found his piano writing for this piece to be highly accessible and refined as performed by Michael Fennelly, one of our favorite pianists. The vocal lines?  Not so interesting.  As performed by the splendid soprano Alyson Cambridge, it was a deeply felt story in which her intense and appropriate dramatic gifts filled in the blanks of the elliptical text.

Ms. Cambridge is a stunning woman with great personal power and a voice that soared into the upper reaches of The Crypt. Her crisp enunciation made every word clear, which is a feature we never take for granted. Her apt phrasing and gestures transformed the spare words on the page to a fully realized portrait.

We first heard Ms. Cambridge a year ago at a New Amsterdam Opera Gala. We loved her "Song to the Moon" from Dvorak's Russalka and her Giulietta from Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffman. Last night we heard a different side of her eclectic talent.

With regard to the compelling setting for this work, Mr. Ousley donates the proceeds from ticket sales of his Crypt Sessions to The Church of the Intercession for the use and upkeep of The Crypt Chapel.

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

THE RED MILL

Alyce Mott and the cast of Victor Herbert's The Red Mill

The Red Mill has turned and as it turned it changed a very cranky reviewer into a smiling member of a joyful audience.  Such is the power of art.  We do believe that "entertainment" and "art" can be synonymous. Today's audience might not consider an operetta from a hundred years ago to be a form of entertainment but, dear reader, trust us on this one.

We were transported back in time to an era when telegrams were novel and were called "magic letters". How welcome this was when our day was spent dealing with a recalcitrant printer and unhelpful tech support. For two hours we were immersed in good humor, romantic longings, and ultimate fulfillment. What could be more soothing!

The enormous popularity of Victor Herbert's musical entertainments can be attributed to his gift for melody and his astute choice of librettist. Henry Blossom provided an enchanting story and wrote dialogue and lyrics that fit the music like glove to hand. Somewhere in between the late 19th c. association between Gilbert and Sullivan and the mid 20th c. Rogers and Hammerstein, we have an artistic partnership that delighted early 20th c. audiences in similar fashion.

The work premiered in 1906 on Broadway and was revived in 1946. Alyce Mott, Founder and Artistic Director of Victor Herbert Renaissance Project LIVE! has tweaked the operetta with some seamless writing and the insertion of some reprises which were not in the original.  Extraneous characters were removed to good advantage.

The charming story will be familiar to those who recall the pre-feminist era. A father is marrying his daughter off to a man who will enhance the father's position. She is in love with a ship's captain and is determined to undermine her father's intentions.  In this she is supported by her widowed aunt and aided by the ridiculous rascals Kid Conner and Con Kidder, who supply much of the comic relief, especially when convincing Papa that they are Sherlock Holmes and Mr. Watson!

Regular audience members, such as we are, are delighted to see the same beautiful faces and hear the same beautiful voices in each production.  This consistency attests to successful casting. As Gretchen, the lovelorn daughter, we heard the scintillating soprano Sarah Caldwell Smith; as the helpful Aunt Berta, we heard soprano Vira Slywotzky, whose generous soprano made a lovely contrast with Ms. Smith's. We adored their duet "I'm Always Doing Something I Don't Want to Do" which speaks volumes about female subjugation.

The male leads were just as well cast and performed.  Tenor Christopher Robin Sapp lent his sweet tone and fine phrasing to the role of Dori van Damm, the sea captain loved by Gretchen. As the conniving pair of swindlers we had the very funny Drew Bolander and Matthew Wages.  We loved their duet "Always Go While the Goin' is Good".

As the controlling Burgomaster of Katwyk-ann-Zee, Gretchen's father, we heard the fine Anthony Maida with Shane Brown portraying the sneaky Sheriff who wants to do Aunt Berta the favor of marrying her.  That was a "no go"!

The brilliant veteran performer David Seatter delighted us as the very nice Governor whom Gretchen doesn't marry, and if you can guess whom he does want to marry, we will invite you to VHRPL!'s next show.

The smaller role of British Solicitor Joshua Pennyfeather was taken by Brian Kilday with much humor spent on his vain attempt to relate his mission, an attempt which was ignored until the very end, lending a delightful twist. Alexa Devlin portrayed a French Noblewoman with a French accent as silly as Mr. Kilday's British accent.

No Victor Herbert musical would be complete without a chorus and what a well-rehearsed chorus we had last night, with every word clear to the ear.  That was most fortunate because the words are so clever! The female chorus was meant to be "models"--Joanie Brittingham, Tanya Roberts, and Hannah Kurth. The male chorus was meant to be "artists"--Jonathan Fox Powers, Daniel Greenwood, and Jonathan Heller.

Highlights of the evening included (but were not limited to) Gretchen's aria "If He Loved But Me" and her duets with the Captain "I Want You to Marry Me" and "The Isle of Our Dreams". Ms. Smith and Mr. Sapp sounded sensational together. The other hit was "Because You're You", sung by Berta and The Governor.  Uh-oh!  We have given it away.  We should have included a "spoiler alert"!

Ms. Mott directed with her customary excellent taste whilst Music Director Maestro Michael Thomas did his fine work with baton in hand. William Hicks played the piano reduction with panache. Emily Cornelius' choreography was charming and period appropriate. 

We would like to point out that the company will perform "The Enchantress" in April with a live orchestra! You can even make a donation to sponsor one of the musicians.

But you don't have to wait until Spring. You can enjoy Ladies First, a concert honoring Victor Herbert's leading ladies, in February.  Even better, you can catch tonight's performance of The Red Mill at Christ and St. Stephen's Church. Even if you didn't have a stressful day you will have a great time!

(c) meche kroop

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

MARTINA ARROYO FOUNDATION GALA

DeAndre Simmons and Jessica Sandidge

How often we have written about Martina Arroyo Foundation's Prelude to Performance! Last night was their 13th gala, held at the JW Marriott Essex House and a significant percentage of the population of Planet Opera was there to celebrate and to honor four major stars.

First on our personal list was the legendary bass-baritone James Morris and the reason we put him first is because his performance as Wotan in The Ring Cycle changed our life. We don't think that experience will ever be equalled; but if bass DeAndre Simmons takes on the role we will be there.  Mr. Simmons' career has taken off since his participation in Prelude to Performance in 2006 and the recognition is growing.

Soprano Jessica Sandidge made a stunning appearance as Mimi in Puccini's La Boheme in 2016 Prelude to Performance and is also experiencing a meteoric rise in her career, winning wonderful reviews for her Micaela in Bizet's Carmen with Heartbeat Opera.

The other three honorees last night included world famous soprano Ailyn Perez whose performances have consistently delighted us; the much celebrated dancer/choreographer/director Tommy Tune; and the beloved Broadway star Chita Rivera. These four honorees have made major contributions to the arts and deserve to be celebrated.

Also deserving to be celebrated is the dearly loved soprano Martina Arroyo who, not content with a major international career, has devoted herself to passing the torch to young artists. There is no shortage of fine singers but the rough cut stones need polishing and that is where Prelude to Performance comes in.

Young artists chosen for the program receive invaluable training in role interpretation by means of studying the background of the opera from an historical perspective, and the study of their character's psychological motivation. Furthermore, there is coaching in the language to be sung. The young artists profit by master classes, which we can attest to after sitting in on most of them.

Two operas are presented each July at Kaye Playhouse, with full orchestra led by topnotch conductors. No expense is spared to create a professional level performance with appropriate sets and costumes. Moreover, the young singers are compensated, thanks to the generosity of supporters.

Anyone who has not attended these performances is truly missing out on a unique experience. Since our first experience attending and reviewing these performances we have never missed a single one. Usually we have enjoyed them far more than performances at "the big house" in Lincoln Center.

A word to the wise--don't miss out. Grab your seats as soon as they go on sale. The operas chosen are from the standard repertory and always suitable for introducing your friends to the wonders of opera.

(c) meche kroop

Monday, November 13, 2017

WAGNER LEIT by NEW AMSTERDAM OPERA

Terina Westmeyer, Maestro Keith Chambers, Maestro Thomas Bagwell, Janara Kellerman, Hyona Kim, Megan Nielson, Kirsten Chambers, Thomas Hall, Melissa Citro, Heather Green, Tyler Smith and Errin Brooks

A late afternoon of Wagner on a cool Autumn afternoon seemed like a great idea and drew us up to Riverside Theater, the comfortable venue within Riverside Church where New Amsterdam Opera makes its home. But we can't help recalling that Wagner's own concept was that of "gesamtkunstwerk"--a work bringing together all the arts, aural and visual.

Planning a few arias in concert version gave us an opportunity to hear some new singers and to hear some others with whom we are acquainted and who are now essaying the Wagnerian repertory, with some interesting results. But we missed the staging, the costumes, the drama, and the sets. That most of the singers were on the book made attempts at acting look just plain silly. Supposed lovers rarely made eye contact!

At this point, let us give props to dramatic soprano Terina Westmeyer who sang Brunnhilde in "Wotan's Farewell" with dramatic baritone Thomas Hall as her father. The two sang without music stands for which we were grateful. We have favorably reviewed Ms. Westmeyer as Lady Billows in Britten's Albert Herring at the Bronx Opera and as La Badessa in Puccini's Suor Angelica. Three years ago we loved her singing of Verdi.

But we have not been present for her Wagner and we were delighted with the power of her voice and the tonal beauty. We see a lot of Wagner in her future and hope to hear more of it. Mr. Hall did not sound beautiful but he followed this scene with Siegfried's confrontation with Erda in which he sounded far better. Perhaps he just needed to warm up.

Erda was sung by mezzo-soprano Hyona Kim, whose dark chocolate sound was excellent for the role.  Ms. Kim first appeared on our radar screen four years ago when she won the Joy of Singing Award. Indeed, she is a superlative lieder recitalist who has been making inroads into the operatic repertory. She is such a fine actress that she dissolves into the part, as she did when she sang Suzuki in Puccini's Madama Butterfly with Martina Arroyo's Prelude to Performance and Wokli in his Fanciulla del West with New York City Opera.

We are also familiar with the work of mezzo-soprano Janara Kellerman whom we enjoyed greatly in the role of Preziosilla with New Amsterdam Opera's recent production of Verdi's Forza del Destino. Her plush sound was enjoyed and noted in the role of Mamma Lucia in Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana with Martha Cardona Opera and Santuzza with New Amsterdam Opera. It was a thrill to hear her expand her repertory into Wagnerian territory.

Soprano Megan Nielson has delighted us as Tatiana in Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin with Utopia Opera and as Nedda in Opera Ithaca's production of Leoncavallo's Pagliacci. We also remember her performance as the eponymous Suor Angelica presented by Chelsea Opera. Yesterday, she showed a lot of promise in Wagnerian territory singing Elsa in a scene from Lohengrin, with Ms. Kellerman adding some interesting texture as the conniving Ortrud and Mr. Hall as fellow conniver Telramund.

Tenor Errin Brooks seems to have gotten his huge instrument under better control and did well as the rejected Erik with soprano Heather Green as Senta in a scene from Der fliegende Hollander.

New to us is tenor Tyler Smith whose sizable instrument was colored with tenderness in the "Liebesnacht" from Tristan und Isolde with the beautiful soprano Kristin Chambers as his scene partner. We liked the way he modulated, successfully employing dynamic variety.  We have enjoyed Ms. Chambers more in other roles such as Fidelio. Ms. Kellerman lent gravity to the situation as Brangäne.

Mr. Smith appeared once again in the final scene of the program in which he has awakened the sleeping Brünnhilde, sung by soprano Melissa Citro.

We found no fault with the German. Alles klar!

Accompanists for the evening were beyond superb. Both Maestri Keith Chambers and Thomas Bagwell elicited most of Wagner's orchestral magic on the piano. Often, when the singers fail to connect with us (usually due to flipping pages on the music stand) our attention shifted to the piano and we heard things in the score that we might have missed.

A highlight of the evening was the presentation of New Amsterdam Opera's first Pathfinder Award to Maestra Eve Queler who broke the glass ceiling for female conductors. Ms. Queler is a girl after our own heart, and we are calling her a girl because she has never lost that youthful quality that we so admire.

We have so many memories of hiking up to the highest level of Carnegie Hall, where the sound is best, to be introduced to rarely performed and forgotten operas and new singers--right up until last year's production of Donizetti's Parisina d'Este. Ms. Queler founded Opera Orchestra of New York in 1971 when there were no female conductors. Brava Eve!

She has plenty of European fame that we haven't experienced but we tend to personalize things and the above describes our Eve Queler. Just one more note of interest is that she has shared all of her scores with New Amsterdam Opera. Dare we hope that we will hear repeats of these rarely produced operas?  Let us hope!

(c) meche kroop


Thursday, November 9, 2017

OPERA INDEX WINNERS

Michael Fennelly, Leo Radosavljevic, Emily Pogorelc, Jane Shaulis, Andres Benavides Cascante, and Jaeman Yoon

Last night was the Opera Index annual membership party which consisted of some exciting entertainment and a buffet supplied by the members, who, we might add, are all given to l'abbondanza. We love great food to go along with great singing.

And great singing was definitely on the menu. Five splendid singers entertained us royally in between les hors d'oeuvres and le grand buffet.

Soprano Hayan Kim performed first since she was on her way to an audition. With a crystalline soprano at her disposal she performed "Je veux vivre" from Charles Gounod's Roméo et Juliette. We were impressed by her ability to engage the audience with her charming stage presence and involvement with the text. She conveyed all the youthful passion required by the role. A fine vibrato ensured that the molecules of air danced around the hall.

Gounod was not the only composer to have tackled Shakespeare's tale of young love. Vincenzo Bellini took a different tack and we were fortunate to hear soprano Emily Pogorelc sing "O quante volte" from I Capuleti e i Montecchi. This aria comes along later in the plot when Juliette has already fallen for Romeo and we had the impression that Ms. Pogorelc knew exactly what she was singing and sang it in beautiful bel canto style.  We liked her phrasing of Bellini's long lines and use of dynamic variation.  And we loved the way pianist Michael Fennelly played Bellini's arpeggi.

Bass-baritone Leo Radosavljevic employed perfect French in his performance of "Riez Allez" from Jules Massenet's Don Quichotte. In this aria Sancho Panza is scolding the people who made fun of his master Don Q. We particularly enjoyed the texture of Mr. Radosavljevic's instrument and his expansive delivery.

Baritone Andres Benavides Cascante evinced a great deal of vocal flexibility in his portrayal of Count Almaviva in "Hai gia vinta la causa" from Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro. The poor Count is clueless and covers it up by being indignant.  All this was conveyed to the audience because Mr. Cascante knew the text and knew it well. 

Baritone Jaeman Yoon wowed the audience with his big round sound and pleasing vibrato as he performed an emotionally intense "Nemico della patria",  Gerard's aria from Umberto Giordano's verismo opera Andrea Chénier.

Three of the artists graciously provided encores of a lighter nature. Ms. Pogorelc performed "Kiss Me Again" from Victor Herbert's comic operetta Mademoiselle Modiste. This is a lovely tuneful song which Ms. Pogorelc graced with some divine portamenti.

Mr. Radosavljevic performed William Bolcom's "Black Max" (our all time favorite Bolcom song). Not since we heard cabaret artist Kim Smith's interpretation have we truly enjoyed this song which requires an enormous amount of dramatic interpretation. We were very impressed by Mr. Radosavljevic's ability to paint a picture with his voice.

And finally, Mr. Cascante sang "Mi Aldea" the opening aria of Jacinto Guerreros' zarzuela Los Gavilanes.  In this opening scene, Juan returns to his village from a long sojourn in Peru. The delivery was delightful and readers may recall how greatly we treasure zarzuelas.

This year Opera Index has awarded $55,000. to 16 singers.  Judging by tonight's sampling, the judges of the competition did a great job winnowing from a large field of applicants. There will be a gala on January 21, 2018, at which we will hear more of the winners.

Opera lovers who have not yet joined Opera Index are encouraged to do so at the modest membership cost of $45. There will be many opportunities to meet fellow opera lovers and help young singers. The list of winners from bygone years is astounding and includes so many of the greatest names in opera.

(c) meche kroop