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.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

OPERA LAFAYETTE LOOKS AT THE FRENCH REVOLUTION

Nathalie Paulin as the eponymous Sapho in Martini's opera 

Perhaps not every lover of the arts will agree with us but we believe that a work of art requires no explanation. It should stand on its own merits. We see people in museums being led around by a docent explaining why a certain painting is excellent.  We are the type to wander around and stop at a painting that arrests our attention, take it in, and decide for ourselves why we like it.

When we go to the theater and the director requires several pages to explain his/her concept and what he/she is trying to convey, we feel irritated.  Either it works or it doesn't.

On Sunday evening, Opera Lafayette, those welcome visitors from D.C., threw us a curve ball by presenting some strangely directed excerpts from three operas composed during the late 18th c. in France. No doubt the tumultuous political climate had an influence on the choice of libretti and compositional style.

However, we feel that Director Mirenka Čechová, in her attempt to do something new and interesting, decided to fit the scenes into a Procrustean bed. She elaborately described why she chose the colors of the French flag and laid a common motive onto the three heroines of the three operas from which the scenes were taken.  We got a headache just trying to understand her "Director's Note".

Judith A. Miller, Associate Professor of History at Emory University contributed several more pages about the French revolution. We would sooner read Simon Schama's 1989 tome "Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution". We do not come to the opera to be educated nor to be baffled.  We come to be entertained and inspired by beautiful music.

And beautiful music was heard, no doubt about that! Canadian soprano Nathalie Paulin gave an impressive performance in scenes from the three operas represented. In Sacchini's Oedipe à Colone she made a splendid Antigone; in Jean-Paul-Égide Martini's Sapho she was equally fine as Sapho; and in Luigi Cherubini's Médée she was incredibly powerful. Her acting was as fine as her singing.

We find no fault with the fine singing and acting of tenor Antonio Figueroa who excelled in the roles of Jason and Phaon. Baritone Javier Arrey was no less excellent as Oedipe and Stesichore. Soprano Sophie Junker was fine in the smaller roles of Cléis and Néris.

Ryan Brown's conducting of the Opera Lafayette period-instrument ensemble was thrilling, as it usually is.  With such fine musical values to delight our ears, it seemed a shame to clutter the stage with symbols.  This may be all the rage in Europe but it did not please us.

This is not to say that the images were unattractive. We mostly admired Martin Spetlik's lighting of Petr Bohác's interesting set design; it's just that the images, as striking as they were, seemed jarring against the music and apposite only to the unconscious of the director.

There were birds on sticks, men carrying suitcases leaking sand, an acrylic tub filled with water to drown the soprano, and what all else.  If music is to provoke imagery we want it to be from our own unconscious memories and fantasies, not from someone else's.

We hope Opera Lafayette's next visit will return us to the world of theatrical realism!

(c) meche kroop

HARRY, HOAGY, AND HAROLD UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL

Christine Price, Amanda Lynn Bottoms, Mikaela Bennett, Gerard Schneider, Dimitri Katotakis, and Kelsey Lauritano

It was the final "Sing for Your Supper" cabaret of the season presented by Steven Blier at Henry's Restaurant--and thus a bittersweet evening, as his singular students from Juilliard head off to fulfill their summer engagements and/or studies. They will be spreading their talents far and wide, leaving the Big Apple with a Big Bite taken out of it.

In January, on the stage at Juilliard, we enjoyed a program entitled "Harry, Hoagy, and Harold" (review archived) that was fully staged with plenty of room to show off Mary Birnbaum's directorial skills. Last night we heard some of the same songs and several new ones. Harry Warren (whom Maestro Blier considers to be quite overlooked), Hoagy Carmichael, and Harold Arlen wrote enough songs for dozens of evenings like this one. In many ways, we enjoyed last night's cabaret even more than the stage version. Cabaret as an art form works best up close and personal. 

We can't tell how many times tenor Miles Mykkanen has opened these programs with Richard Rodgers' "Sing For Your Supper" but the song belongs to him and he belongs to the song. He puts his own personal and slightly naughty stamp on the clever lyrics.  What a sensation! No less a sensation than his recent star turn as Tamino in Juilliard's Die Zauberflöte.

We know that at least two of the six performers last night started their singing lives as "Broadway babies" but what about the other four? They have credited Maestro Blier with giving them the jazz style and the jazz beat. To have heard these young artists on the opera stage and then to see them tackle cabaret, without any of the phony cross-over sound that we so dislike, never ceases to astonish us.

Mikaela Bennett performed Harold Arlen's "Sleepin' Bee" from the not very successful 1954 musical House of Flowers; we enjoyed it far more than Barbra Streisand's recording. The piano arrangement by Maestro Blier took our breath away.

Her duet with Amanda Lynn Bottoms "Two Ladies in the Shade of the Banana Tree", from the same musical, was terrific. We have heard them perform this before and would happily hear it again. Lyrics by Truman Capote.

Ms. Bottoms gave a beautiful solo of "That Old Black Magic" which is so familiar--but she made the Mercer/Arlen song sound completely new.  

Kelsey Lauritano, whose recent graduation recital was so impressive, revealed her cabaret background with "I Yi Yi Yi! I Like You Very Much" from the 1941 Gordon/Arlen musical That Night in Rio.  (This was what we referred to in our review as having seen her dance with fruit on her head.) All we can say is "I Yi Yi Yi! We like YOU very much". The entire cast joined for this Latin celebration.

Soprano Christine Price, having just starred as Pamina in Juilliard's production of Die Zauberflöte, showed another side of her talent in a moving performance of the Washington/Carmichael song "The Nearness of You". We loved the way she floated the final note.

She joined Gerard Schneider, who was on hand with his ukulele and his guitar, and entertained us royally with a scene from the 1943 Harburg/Arlen Bloomer Girl. In "Evelina", the hero serenades the eponymous Evelina, thinking she is a servant in the household.  It was cute and funny, thanks to the talents of Ms. Price and Mr. Schneider.

Mr. Schneider also performed a lovely solo of "At Last" from the Gordon/Warren 1941 musical Orchestra Wives, putting his own spin on it.

Baritone Dimitri Katotakis serenaded us with "Skylark", the well known song by Mercer and Carmichael. Mr. Blier told the audience that he only considers two songs to be "perfect". This was one and the other is by Gabriel Fauré!

The ensemble had a few numbers in which to show their ensemble spirit, beside the aforementioned "I Yi Yi Yi". They performed "Cheerful Little Earful", the Ira Gershwin & Billy Rose song with music by Harold Arlen.

They closed the evening with a Mercer/Carmichael tune "In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening" from the 1951 musical Here Comes the Groom.  

And there was an encore with some lovely harmonies to relish--the Mercer/Arlen tune "Bye Bye Baby" which left the wildly enthusiastic audience in a state of midnight bliss.

(c) meche kroop

Monday, May 2, 2016

GERDA LISSNER FOUNDATION

An embarrassment of riches--Gerda Lissner International Vocal Competition Winners

Thanks to the incredible generosity of the Gerda Lissner Foundation, young vocal talent is spotted and successful careers are launched. Over two million dollars has been awarded to about 500 young artists.  This year's winners were culled from approximately 400 applicants and were astonishing in their talent.

The competition winners' recital, an annual event, was graciously hosted by Brian Kellow who introduced the honoree, no less an artist than star soprano Deborah Voigt. We were happy to hear Stephen De Maio, President of the Foundation, acknowledged and described as "a best friend to young artists".

And what a group of young artists we heard yesterday! As is our wont, we will not distinguish between levels of prizes. There were a number of features that were common to all the winners; they were all well-prepared, poised, and totally committed to what they were singing. There are difficulties in jumping into an aria without staging, makeup, and costumes. The singer must use only voice and gesture to bring the audience into the aria.

The Liederkranz Foundation is now associated with the Gerda Lissner Foundation and awarded  prizes to tenor Kevin Ray and to soprano Amber Daniel. Mr. Ray's performance of "Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnemond" from Wagner's Die Walküre was delivered with a dark color but warm feeling. Somehow Mr. Ray managed to convey Siegmund's sorrowful backstory lurking behind the sudden joy of reuniting with his twin sister.  And that's artistry! We were hoping that the gloomy weather outside would yield to Spring but no such luck!

Ms. Daniel's "Dich, teure Halle" from Wagner's Tannhäuser was delivered with joyful abandon and a powerful ringing tone. Her German diction was excellent.

The Liederkranz Foundation does not just support Wagnerian singers. They also awarded a prize to Sean Michael Plumb whose baritone has impressed judges in several other competitions.  He performed "Bella siccome un angelo" from Donizetti's Don Pasquale and sold it to the audience just as successfully as Dr. Malatesta sold his "sister" to the eponymous hero of the opera. He produced a rich sound and a most dynamic presence as he waxed rhapsodic over "Sofronia".

There was a lot more bel canto on the program, to our delight. The long lyric lines Bellini wrote for Amina in "Care Compagne" from La Sonnambula were gracefully handled by the lovely soprano Hyesang Park; her fine voice and technique served this ingenue role perfectly.

Another modest bel canto heroine is Angelina in Rossini's La Cenerentola and mezzo-soprano Aleksandra Romano performed her final aria "Nacqui all'affanno...Non piu mesta"; she exhibited a true mezzo quality that opened beautifully at the top. The cabaletta could only be described as exciting.

Rossini's other mezzo heroine Rosina in "Il barbiere di Siviglia" is not so modest; she is as spunky as a 19th c. girl could be, and Samantha Hankey used her personality and her smoky sound to fine effect. The embellishments to the line were quite wonderful.

Tenor Fanyong Du exhibited fine Italianate technique as he tackled Bellini's stretched out line in "A Te, O Cara" from I Puritani. With his somewhat grainy tone he managed to invest the aria with profound romantic feeling and evinced superb dynamic control and an impressive legato.

Bass-baritone Pawel Konik engaged us completely with his delivery of "Aleko's cavatina" from the Rachmaninoff opera of the same name. His tone is warm with a pleasant resonance throughout his entire range. He delivered a beautifully modulated crescendo and not a hint of burliness.

We had hoped to hear some more Russian from soprano Antonina Chehovska but once we heard her "Depuis le jour" from Charpentier's Louise, any hint of disappointment melted away. With gorgeous French she floated her top notes and won our admiration with a beautifully sustained pianissimo.

There was more French to be enjoyed. Soprano Alexa Jarvis did well by Gounod in "Air des bijoux" from Faust. Her voice sparkled like the gems that so impressed Marguerite and the performance dazzled us with authenticity.

Baritone Kidon Choi performed the beautiful "Vision Fugitive" from Massenet's Hérodiade and our first thought was "Verdi baritone in his future". We heard a lot of depth and breadth, especially in the lower register, and some quite lovely phrasing.

There was only one Verdi aria on the program but not for a baritone. Tenor Kang Wang sang Alfredo's Act II aria "De' miei bollenti spiriti" from La Traviata, with a most attractive sound and ebullient spirit.

Finally, we heard three Puccini arias. D'Ana Lombard drew us into "Si, mi chiamano Mimi" from La bohème. The modesty and lovely tone were just right for the character.

Although not at all adjacent on the program, her counterpart Rodolfo has an aria in the same act--"Che gelida manina" and tenor Galeano Salas performed it with his sizable warm instrument and Italianate sound, creating a most believable character with voice and gesture.

Finally, we were delighted by tenor Andrew Stenson's performance of Rinuccio's aria "Firenze è come un albero fiorito" from Gianni Schicchi. Mr. Stenson was just bursting with personality and employed his fine instrument with such gusto that we could indeed visualize everything he was describing about this beautiful city.

We couldn't imagine a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon than by hearing such a wide variety of talent--each one with his/her own special gifts, each one on a different pathway which we hope will bring them all fame and fortune.

Piano accompaniment was provided by Arlene Shrut and Jonathan Kelly.

(c) meche kroop






Saturday, April 30, 2016

GALLIC GLORY AT MSM


Bryn Holdsworth as Andromède
Yeon Jung Lee as Le Feu and Amy Yarham as L'Enfant

It was a night of sheer delight spent with Manhattan School of Music Opera Theater. Credit for this extraordinary success must be attributed to the clever direction of renowned James Robinson, who told the tales with originality that was still true to the origins of the two works; to the beautifully balanced sound of the conservatory's orchestra under the baton of Pierre Vallet; and, above all, to the superb singing and acting of the young artists, mainly graduate level students.

The wisely chosen program comprised two French works of note, the first of which, Jacques Ibert's 1924 Persée et Andromède, has never before been performed in the United States, and the second of which, Maurice Ravel's 1925 L'Enfant et les Sortilèges, we have enjoyed on several prior occasions.

Ibert's librettist "Nino" (a pen name for his brother-in-law Michel Veber) turned the tale of Perseus' rescue of Andromeda on its head. In the myth, she has been chained to a rock as a sacrifice (long story!) and dreams of being rescued from the monster Cathos by a great hero.  Perseus arrives on a winged horse (Pegasus), slays the monster, and carries her off to live happily ever after (sort of).

In Nino's libretto, Perseus is so arrogant when he kills Cathos that Andromeda realizes that she has loved the monster all along and declines to leave with Perseus. Pining over Cathos, her grief brings him back to life as a handsome prince.

But wait! Mr. Robinson's concept is that this all takes place in a French museum with a reproduction of Cesari's 1596 painting of the legend occupying pride of place, flanked by supposed studies for the work. The museum guard must ride herd on a group of uniformed schoolgirls who get too close to the velvet rope and a mother with her two obstreperous children.

A beautiful redhead enters and lies writhing on a bench as she dreams of, what else, a romantic encounter. Soprano Bryn Holdsworth, whom we have written about before, sang with terrific tone and acted with conviction. She even convinced us that she was a natural redhead, so well did she embody her character.  And that's acting! It was a stellar performance, marked by some fine French diction, coached by Bénédicte Jourdois.

The superbly coached schoolgirls acted as Greek chorus, commenting on and giggling over the sleeping Andromeda, just as schoolgirls would. What an inspired concept! Chorus Master Daniela Candillari must have worked very hard to achieve this success.

As the museum guard, bass Hidenori Inoue, was peevish but far from a monster. He serenaded Andromeda with full round tone and tried to ease her boredom with stories and symbolic chess games.

Tenor Taehwan Ku made a humorously arrogant Perseus, waving a silk scarf with an image of Medusa imprinted, in place of the Gorgon's head. The "monster" was not intimidated.

Allen Moyer's set was a fine recreation of a museum while Paul Palazzo's lighting contributed a great deal, adding glowing warmth to the arrival of Perseus. James Schuette's costumes were consistently mid-20th c. and Tom Watson's hair and makeup design was apt.

And oh, that music! Much of it was impressionistic and shimmered with painterly colors, sounding just right for the setting. That made the climactic moment of crescendo all that more affecting. We were curious about the placement of the harps off to one side, and the percussion off to the other. Whatever the reason, it sounded sensational.

Ravel's charming work L'Enfant et Les Sortilèges started life as a ballet with a book by Colette; but this baby had a decade long gestation, finally achieving the stage in Monte Carlo in 1925. It is a favorite of music conservatories since it employs a large cast. It tells the tale of a naughty boy who treats people, animals, and furniture with equal contempt.

When the aforementioned furniture comes to life and turns against him, and the animals speak to him of their suffering, he learns compassion. It is a wonderful lesson for children, but also for adults. Behavior has consequences!

As the eponymous child, Australian mezzo-soprano Amy Yarham sang with beautiful inflected phrasing and easily understood French; moreover she created a most believable little boy bored with his homework, throwing a tantrum of destruction to retaliate against his mother.

The entire cast was excellent and we hesitate to single out only a few but we were struck by the precise coloratura of soprano Yeon Jung Lee who created a lot of heat with her red-sequined gown as well as her singing.

The audience loved the pair of fighting cats--mezzo Rachel Stewart and Christopher Stockslager and the linguistic hijinks of Emma Mansell's Chinese Cup and Gregory Giovine's Teapot.

We have always enjoyed Noragh Devlin who enacted a matronly looking mother, in high mid-20th c. style.  And Michael Gracco's Grandfather Clock created a striking image.

 Again, the sets and costumes were terrific.

Ravel's music for this work is highly eclectic and benefits enormously from a most colorful orchestration. The MSM Orchestra captured every nuance.

(c) meche kroop






Friday, April 29, 2016

OUR THIRD DIDO

Kelli O'Hara and Victoria Clark (photo by Erin Baiano)

Henry Purcell's first opera, first performed in 1689 by students in a school for young ladies, lay dormant for two centuries, but we have seen three performances of this seminal work this season. The one we saw last night at New York City Center had the largest audience by far. The large theater was packed and the audience enthusiastic. Much of the credit lay at the feet of Master Voices, the group formerly known as The Collegiate Chorale. They have, apparently, a huge following and tackle a wide variety of genres.

Not for nothing did they cast the major female roles with famous Broadway stars who were lavishly costumed by the designer Christian Siriano, whose fame was flaunted in the press. We say "Anything goes if it brings people to the opera!"

The glamour took nothing away from the musical values. Kelli O'Hara  made a sympathetic Dido and Victoria Clark's star turn as the Sorceress brought shivers of wicked delight. They both sounded terrific and if their voices were amplified it was done with subtlety.

Canadian baritone Elliot Madore sang with honeyed tone and created a fine believable Aeneas such that we wanted to shout out "Don't fall for that false Mercury!" In Nahum Tate's libretto, which does not completely follow the story as told in Virgil's Aeneid, poor Trojan Aeneas is tricked into abandoning Dido, Princess of Carthage, in order to found Rome. Or so he is told by the false Mercury, enlisted by the Sorceress. No reason is given for the Sorceress to have such enmity toward Dido. We have missed Mr. Madore since he graduated from the Lindemann Young Artists Program and were very very happy to see him onstage once more.

Dido has two handmaidens--one is her sister Belinda who encourages her to consider Aeneas as a suitor. In this role, soprano Anna Christy, a favorite of the Santa Fe Opera where we have thrilled to her performances, has a gorgeous high clear voice with a beautiful timbre. The second handmaiden was performed by Sarah Mesko, whose lovely chocolatey mezzo voice graced the stage of the Santa Fe Opera as well.

Tenor Nathaniel Dolquist was given the role of the First Sailor; his aria was the one spot of humor in this very sad opera. Aside from singing it well, we might add that his every word was understood. The same can be said for Mr. Madore. We realize that higher voices are more difficult to understand and for this reason we feel justified in our sole complaint of this excellent evening--titles were badly needed. One tends to feel the way one does when listening to an opera in a language that one only half knows. One catches a word here and there and figures out the essence of the meaning but one wishes to hear and understand the entire thing.

There was a surprisingly delightful addition to the program. Since the prologue to the opera was lost long long ago, the task of writing one was given to Michael John LaChiusa who wrote both music and lyrics for "The Daughters of Necessity: a Prologue". He used every skill he possesses from his Broadway experience to write something that was both artistic and accessible.

He created a scene that reminded us of the Three Norns in The Ring Cycle. Three very funny Norns, as a matter of fact. He calls them Fates. The first, Nona, sung by Ms. Mesko, spins the thread of life and is focused on the past. The second, Decima, sung by Anna Christy, measures the thread and concerns herself with the present.  The third, Morta, sung by Victoria Clark, cuts the thread at the time of death and is, therefore, the one determining the future.

The punchy dialogue about life, love, and death worked extremely well with the music written by LaChiusa, which was interspersed with baroque music. Much of the humor came from the Fates' interaction with the Master Voices, arranged upstage in tiers. There was a running joke of Morta and her scissors ending the lives of various choristers who fell from the ranks and collapsed on the floor, to be hauled away. One of them, trying to avoid the deadly scissors, fled upstage. Ms. Clark's flair for comedy was impressive.

The singing of the chorus was exemplary and much of it employed such good diction that we got most of what they were singing. They seemed like a true Greek Chorus, commenting on the action and interacting with the singers.

No less could be said of The Orchestra of St. Luke's who performed superbly under the baton of Ted Sperling. Purcell's music has never sounded so fine!

If we did not have such antipathy toward barefoot modern dance, we might have found more to enjoy in the choreography by Doug Varone. His athletic dancers lept and spun and rolled around on the floor. They also moved the minimal furniture and interacted with the singers. Clad in black, they mostly moved as a unit. Our companion thought they added something to the performance.

It is not necessary to know the political atmosphere of the 17th c. but it is interesting. Purcell was born at the time of the Restoration and scholars have "found" an allegory in the story. Dido is said to represent the British people while Aeneas represents James II. The Sorceress is said to represent the repressive Catholic church, luring James to abandon his subjects by denying them secular entertainment.  Welcome Charles!!

This makes us wonder what is going on today that makes this story of deceit of a ruler by evil forces so relevant.  Hmmm.

(c) meche kroop

HALF A TREAT IS BETTER THAN NONE

J.J. Penna and Kelsey Lauritano


Due to a prior reviewing commitment, we were only able to hear half of Kelsey Lauritano's graduation recital--from the Juilliard Vocal Arts Department--but it would be an understatement to say that it was well worth the mad dash to Juilliard followed by an equally mad dash to New York City Center.

By all measures, this mezzo-soprano has a wonderful future ahead of her. We have heard her sing cabaret music with New York Festival of Song; we have heard her sing Hugo Wolf songs in recital, and we have seen her performance as one of Mozart's "Three Spirits" last week at Juilliard in Die Zauberflöte.  We have even seen her sing and dance with fruit on her head.

So...we were not a bit surprised to hear her dazzle the audience at her recital.  She began with "Presti Omai" from Händel's Giulio Cesare--a difficult aria filled with long phrases requiring excellent breath control and flights of fioritura requiring flexibility. She succeeded admirably on both counts.

She has an engaging stage presence that invites the audience to share her pleasure. She exhibits consummate self confidence and never hangs onto the piano. She graciously shared with the audience her love for Debussy both in her introductory words and in her singing. In Trois Chansons de Bilitis she put her emphasis on the erotic, using her voice and gesture.

Learning about the three stages of the life of Bilitis, as expressed in the original poetry by Pierre Louÿs, added to our appreciation. In "La flûte de Pan", Bilitis achieves her sensual initiation. In "La  chevelure", she exhibits mature sexuality through her lover's dream. In "Le tombeau des Naïades", she is an older woman examining her youthful years. We have never enjoyed the songs more.

There were only two songs by Hugo Wolf in the next set, both from his Spanisches Liederbuch. First we heard  "Klinge, klinge, mein Pandero"; the text expresses both the joy of the dance and the anguish in the poet's heart. The original text by Alvaro Fernandez de Almeida was translated into German by Emanuel von Geibel, who also translated an anonymous text for the charming "Wer tat deinem Füsslein weh?"in which the singer gets to color her voice differently for the footsore woman and the man who wants to heal her pain.

We were obliged to miss Dominick Argento's setting of From the Diary of Virginia Woolf. 

We would like to highlight Ms. Lauritano's facility with languages. French and German are both difficult in different ways but she nailed them both. The fine collaborative pianist J.J. Penna accompanied in his customary fine style.

(c) meche kroop

Thursday, April 28, 2016

SERENADE ME!

Victor Herbert Renaissance Project Live!

We wish more opera lovers were aware of the joys of operetta. The art form is part of American musical history and laid the foundation for the American Musical. They provided grand theatrical entertainment for both Americans and Austrians of la belle époque. Their plots are delightfully silly and their music is gloriously tuneful.

King of the composers of operetta was Victor Herbert, who was born in Ireland and raised in Germany; he composed his great hits in the USA around the turn of the 20th c.  For bringing his works to the attention of New Yorkers, we have Alyce Mott to thank; her visionary stewardship of the Victor Herbert Renaissance Project Live! has resulted in an ever-growing audience.  Last night, Christ and St. Stephen's church was packed to the very last pew with adoring fans.

Last night's production of The Serenade, Herbert's second big Broadway success, employed the original libretto from 1897 by Harry B. Smith. The preposterous situation involves a Duke (the wildly funny David Seatter) who is so possessive of his flirtatious ward Dolores (the stunning Vira Slywotzky) that he is ready to murder anyone of whom he is suspicious.  The running joke is that the beautiful "serenade" is sung by almost everyone in the show at one time or another.

Dolores is in love with Alvarado (the wonderful Bray Wilkins), a star of the Madrid Opera who has won her with his "serenade". Also in love with her is the tone-deaf tailor Gomez (the effective Brian Kilday) who gets a singing lesson from the retired tenor Colombo (the hilarious Glenn Seven Allen). With three characters like this, one can just imagine the hilarity of the has-been teaching the never-will-make-it!

Colombo has a beautiful daughter Yvonne (performed by coloratura Natalie Ballenger, who IS beautiful, both in appearance and voice). We don't get to find out whom she will marry until the very end.

Meanwhile we get exposed to the Royal Madrid Brigands Association with their pop-guns. In a move worthy of W.S. Gilbert, they become politicians at the end. As a matter of fact, in his skill with wordplay and rhyming, Mr. Smith comes close to Mr. Gilbert. But Mr. Herbert's music owes no debt to any other composer.

Our funny bone was tickled by the hijinks of hiding in cloister and monastery and by the changing of costumes between Yvonne and Dolores, which fools the near-sighted Duke. Our ears were tickled by the gorgeous singing.

Led by Stephen Faulk (who had a stunning ballad toward the end-- "I Envy the Bird") and by Matthew Wages, the group of brigands included Daniel Greenwood, Drew Bolander, Jovani McCleary, and Seph Stanek. Their choral numbers were finely handled and exhibited good English diction. We particularly enjoyed their rendition of the "serenade".

The female chorus was also fine--Angela Christine Smith, Sarah Caldwell Smith, and Chelsea Friedlander--all nuns led by Mother Superior Katherine Corle. It was a bit more difficult to understand their words, as it usually is with higher voices.

Some highlights of the evening included Mr. Seatter's patter song "A Duke of High Degree", the female chorus' number "In Our Quiet Cloister" (which was rhymed with "oyster"), and Dolores and Alvarado's duet "Don Jose of Seville". One very special aspect of VHRPLive! is that they are an ensemble company and one gets to enjoy the same wonderful artists in different roles.

Alyce Mott did a swell job as Stage Director and Music Director Michael Thomas not only conducted but sounded the chimes, as William Hicks played the piano score, which was compiled by Dino Anagnost.

We are already planning to enjoy more of VHRPLive! next year but you can still catch them this year since The Serenade has one more performance tonight at 8:00.

(c) meche kroop