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.

Monday, February 19, 2018

POLITICS TRUMPS ART

Megan Nielson and Paolo Buffagni as Floria Tosca and Mario Cavaradossi

Puccini's Tosca may just be the perfect opera. It is tuneful and offers memorable arias for each principal. It reminds us how fragile are the arts and how easily trampled (trumpled) they can be. The story is a riveting one with complex characters, giving the singers many opportunities for dramatic excess, a real treat in this day and age of "whatever". These characters are living and dying for the highest of stakes.

Under the general direction of Zachary James, himself a singer, Opera Ithaca has made quite a name for itself; their bringing their productions to New York City is a treat, even when they are performing a reduced version. Only the very best singers are put onstage for our delight.

As Floria Tosca, we had soprano Megan Nielson, whose Suor Angelica, Nedda, and Tatiana had impressed us on prior occasions. The very live acoustics in the Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church elicited ample overtones in her lovely instrument. "Vissi d'arte"was sung with fine details of coloration within a larger dramatic arc. Her voice is well centered and even throughout the register. She inhabited the role completely and we could not take our eyes away from her. 

Although most people prefer to sit at least halfway back in the house, we ourself love to be right down front, the better to experience the intimacy. When Tosca kills the menacing Scarpia our heart was pounding.  He was so hateful that we could have killed him ourself!

As Tosca's love interest we heard tenor Paolo Buffagni whose garlic infused tone originated, as we believe, in Modena, also the birthplace of the dear departed Pavarotti. Is it the Parma ham, the Parmigiano, the balsamico?  Mr. Buffagni sang with ample tone and proper Italianate phrasing that is best learned in the cradle. His voice was highly resonant within the church's acoustics but he was especially moving in his Act III duet with Ms. Nielson--"O dolci mani"-- when he held back the volume in a show of tenderness.

Both of these characters are complex. Tosca is as ready to sacrifice her Catholic morality for Cavaradossi as she is to torment him about the model for his painting of the Virgin Mary. Cavaradossi adores his lady love but shoves her aside to minister to his friend Angelotti who has escaped from prison. He risks his own life to protect his friend.

There is nothing complex about the character of Baron Scarpia. He is evil through and through, as are all politicians who prey upon their own citizens. Particularly resonant to where we are in 2018 is his sense of entitlement to women, not for pleasure but as a show of power. In Act I, the most significant feeling was one of menace.  In Act II, he made an attempt to decorate his lust with seductiveness. Michael Nyby gave his all vocally and dramatically.

Jake Stamatis performed the role of Cesare Angelotti; Benno Ressa injected the role of the Sacristan with enough humor to set us up for the tragedy to come. Andrew Hudson-Sabens made a fine Spoletta and Nathan Murphy served well as Sciarrone and later as a jailer. Rachel Silverstein sang the beautiful aria of the Shepherd Boy, strangely dressed in white, looking more like an angel than a shepherd boy.

Without benefit of titles, the audience relied on the narration of stage director Ellen Jackson, which was quite clear and detailed. What we saw was halfway between a concert version and a full production. Although Ms. Nielson and Mr. Buffagni acted their parts off the book, Mr. Nyby and the others were mostly trying to act holding the score.  We would have preferred otherwise.

Ms. Jackson staged the opera well, making use of the church balcony for Cavaradossi's painting and his interaction with the fugitive Angelotti. A twist in the plot dealt rather successfully with weaponry. There would have been no safe way for Tosca to jump to her death so she killed herself with Scarpia's pistol--the same one she used to kill him in Act II, having swiped it from his jacket pocket. It was a bit strange to see the pistol dangling out of her pocket in Act III but it solved the problem. The firing squad in the final scene was left to the imagination of the audience.

The thirteen singers in the chorus did well with the "Te Deum" in Act I and as the musical entertainment in Act II  where they stood off to the side. There was one member of the chorus who knew his part without the book and we give him props for that!

Gordon Schermer conducted and played the piano score while J. David Williams performed at the impressive church organ for the "Te Deum".

We loved feeling so involved with the action and we loved hearing some very fine voices. The transportation issues of getting to Brooklyn evaporated with the heat of the performances.

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, February 17, 2018

THE DIVA NEXT DOOR

Bryan Wagorn and Nadine Sierra

We rushed uptown to the Park Avenue Armory from our afternoon at the Morgan Library where we heard seventeen young singers competing for the generous awards given by the George London Foundation.  Only a glutton for vocal music could retain energy and enthusiasm. But the artistry of Nadine Sierra and her piano partner Bryan Wagorn ensured that our attention never flagged. 

It occurred to us that Ms. Sierra, not yet 30, would have fit right in with the demographics of the London competitors.  But Ms. Sierra won that competition eight years ago!  And performed a recital for them three years ago as well.  One might say that her star ascended very early. Indeed she was the youngest person to have won the Met National Council Award. And the awards just kept rolling in!

Ms. Sierra is now world renowned but she maintains the warmth, naturalness, and generosity of spirit that can bring an audience to its knees--and to its feet also, for a standing ovation. We have reviewed her performances more than any other singer.  Five years ago we called her "The Diva Next Door".  Earlier reviews have been lost but we have been impressed with her artistry from the very first time we heard her.

Last night she performed as part of a series held in the superbly restored Board of Officers Room at the Park Avenue Armory. The intimate space allowed us to feel up close and personal and its historic nature seemed perfect for a vocal recital.  And what a recital it was!

There was quite a bit of overlapping with a recital she and Mr. Wagorn presented three years ago at Pace University as part of a vocal series that sadly is no more. Our favorite part of both recitals was the Strauss. It seemed as if Richard Strauss wrote the songs with her in mind. The richness of tone, the musicality of phrasing, the artistry of the word coloring, and the intensity of involvement with the text all joined to give the feeling of newness to songs we have heard countless times.

Each song seemed like a mini opera and the listening gave rise to visual imagery, making each one a satisfying experience. "Zueignung" could not have been more passionate and "Allerseelen" could not have been more soulful, as Ms. Sierra caressed each word. The high notes floated up to the very high ceiling.

"Ständchen" was sung playfully and "Cäcilie" with passionate enthusiasm. Ms. Sierra invested "Morgen" with an ethereal quality and Mr. Wagorn's playing of the prelude set the stage perfectly.

Schubert's "Du bist die Ruh" was performed with delicacy and the kind of legato quality one expects in Italian, yet without any cheating of the consonants. The two artists matched each other's style in a most affecting manner.

Schumann's "Widmung" is a bit lower lying but presented no obstacle to Ms. Sierra. We could hear the composer's deep affection for Clara in every phrase.

We have heard Samuel Barber's Hermit Songs many times and have never warmed to them. In spite of the detested music stand, which Ms. Sierra did not seem to need, she was able to give them a full measure of artistry. As usual, the two we do appreciate--"Promiscuity" and "The Monk and His Cat" are not of a religious nature.

Our love for zarzuela was requited by the performance of "Me llaman la primorosa" from Gerónimo Giménez' 1901 El barbero de Sevilla, which is, yes, about some young singers performing the Rossini opera. This gave Ms. Sierra an opportunity to do the Musetta thing and the audience loved it. If there were one thing on the program that we'd want her to do without the music stand, this was it.  What a wonderful encore piece it would be.

Joaquin Rodrigo's mid 20th c. Cuatro madrigales amatorios was written in estilo antico and we always love hearing them for their solid Iberian flavor in the piano and the pungent text. "De dónde venís, amore?" was imbued with flirtatiousness.  In the final song "De los álamos vengo, madre" the final note was spun out like a silk filament and we held our breath.

We were not very familiar with the Turina songs which followed--settings of romantic text by Lope de Vega--but they were quite lovely.

Ms. Sierra is generous in sharing anecdotes with the audience and related how her Portuguese grandmother shared a musical language with her but not a spoken one. She sees her career as a fulfillment of the grandmother's journey. And so we were gifted with some songs in Portuguese.

Ernani Braga's "Engenho novo" is a rapid fire tongue twister that tickled our ears.  On the other hand, Heitor Villa-Lobos' "Melodia sentimental" is lyrical and romantic.  Both were composed in the mid 20th c.

Back came the music stand for Bernstein's "A Julia de Burgos" which we heard recently at New York Festival of Song.

Ms. Sierra expressed her gratitude to Marilyn Horne for jump starting her career and giving her worthwhile advice; she paid her tribute with an encore--Stephen Foster's "Beautiful Dreamer"--beautifully rendered in a very different timbre than the rest of the recital.

It was clear that the audience would not let Ms. Sierra off the stage without some opera and we heard a most enchanting performance of "O mio babbino caro" from Puccini's Gianni Schicchi. What father could resist such a plea?

A word to the wise-- Ms. Sierra has just recorded her first album.  It should be a major success.

(c) meche kroop


THOSE POOR JUDGES

Front Row--Raehann Bryce-Davis, Nora London, Lauren Margison, and Ben Taylor
Back Row--Lawson Anderson, Rihab Chaieb, and Emily D'Angelo (photo by Mark Von Holden)

We are so glad not to have been in the position of judging the George London Foundation Competition! The seventeen singers we heard yesterday, culled from 150 applicants, were all beyond excellent. It was a stellar opportunity to hear young artists we had heard and reviewed before, as well as to hear a couple that were new to us. To our ears, they all seemed destined for excellent careers. Several of them were winners of Encouragement Awards in past years.

We were particularly delighted to hear bass-baritone Lawson Anderson growing into the Wagnerian repertory; he made a fine impression with Wotan's "Abendlich strahlt der Sonne Auge" from Das Rheingold.  We hope by the time The Metropolitan Opera dumps the current disfavored production of The Ring Cycle,  Mr. Anderson will be on their short list of Wotans!

Mezzo-soprano Raehann Bryce-Davis demonstrated true star quality in "O ma lyre immortelle" from Gounod's Sapho.  She has a true rich mezzo sound, fine French diction, and was very much "in the moment". Her performance was emotionally riveting and she brought the aria to a stunning climax.

Soprano Lauren Margison was completely convincing as the bejeweled and bedazzled Marguerite in Gounod's Faust. The performance was polished, the French was superb, and we loved the thrilling trilling of her high-lying instrument.

Mezzo-soprano Emily D'Angelo, one of the youngest contestants at 23, can look forward to a fine career as a Rossini heroine. Her "Una voce poco fa" showed a great deal of ease and a fine facility for fioritura. The top of her register is brilliant and penetrating.

Mezzo-soprano Rihab Chaieb showed intense emotional involvement in "Oui, Dieu le veut" from Tchaikovsky's Jeanne d'Arc.  It was perfectly suited to the character she was portraying. Her French was completely comprehensible and we admired her skill with dynamic variation.

Baritone Ben Taylor performed "Ya vas lyublyu" (Yeletsky's Aria) from Tchaikovsky's Pique Dame with a rich and pleasing tone. There was plenty of power there which he successfully harnessed for a lovely messa di voce. To our ears, his Russian sounded excellent.

Counter-tenor Daniel Moody gave us goosebumps in the very disturbing aria "Dawn still darkness" from Jonathan Dove's Flight, in the role of the refugee, which was performed by Jakub Jozef Orlinski the last time we heard it. Mr. Moody has a gorgeous tone and filled out the aria with appropriate anguish. Even at the top of his register his English diction made every word count.

We wish we could say the same about soprano Amy Owen's performance of "I am the wife of Mao Tse Tung" from John Adams' Nixon in China. The brilliance of her voice and the intensity of her dramatic presentation excelled but we couldn't understand a word. We wondered how such a tiny frame could produce such a large sound!

Mezzo-soprano Samantha Gossard showed a real feeling for her character Octavian in "Wie du warst!" from Richard Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier. The timbre of her voice and her phrasing were perfect for the hormonal youth in his post-coital state of enthusiasm.

The lovely long lines of Bellini were well served by soprano Jana McIntyre in "Qui la voce" from I Puritani. There is an exciting quality to her instrument and the phrasing was quite wonderful. We loved the expressiveness and the dynamics. In the cabaletta we admired the coloratura and there was a gentle descending scale that was exquisitely rendered.

It was a pleasure to renew our acquaintance with soprano Deanna Breiwick who has been gracing the stages of Europe for the past few years. She still has the exciting timbre that we remember from Juilliard days and the penetrating high notes necessary for the exciting "Je veux vivre" from Gounod's Roméo et Juliette; there is evidence of artistic growth as well.

Mezzo-soprano Corrie Stallings sang one of the few English language arias that we enjoy--Erika's lament "Must the winter come so soon" from Samuel Barber's Vanessa. She held my attention throughout by making the text perfectly clear and bringing out its poetry. We loved the melisma on the word "soon".

Soprano Madison Leonard used her brilliant coloratura well in "Glitter and be gay" from Bernstein's Candide. She created a Cunegonde who can enjoy the melancholic aspect as well as the pecuniary pleasures of her plight. It was a winning performance that set the molecules in the theater to vibrating.

Mezzo-soprano Sarah Coit showed fine flexibility in the fioritura of "Agitato da fiere tempeste" from Handel's Riccardo Primo.

Soprano Anna Dugan made us sit up and take notice in her convincing performance of the "Jewel Song" from Faust. There were overtones aplenty!  We are not sure why the judges scheduled two performances of the same aria on one program. The two performances were both excellent.

Tenor Martin Bakari gave an expressive performance of "Un'aura amorosa", Ferrando's aria from Mozart's Cosi fan tutte. His tone is sweet and his pacing was perfect.

Tenor Aaron Short delighted with "Dein ist mein ganzes Herz" from Franz Lehar's Das Land des Lähelns. His German was excellent and we heard every word.

Accompanist for the afternoon was the excellent and versatile Craig Rutenberg who supported each singer with excellent tact.

All told, it was a sensational afternoon, one we look forward to every year. Nora London made the introductory remarks and we always have the same thought--how wonderful it is to have established a foundation to honor a spouse who is no longer with us and how wonderful to support the careers of these emerging artists.  May they all go on to successful careers.  We are watching and listening.

(c) meche kroop







Thursday, February 15, 2018

THE INNOCENT MERRIMENT OF THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR

Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor at The Juilliard School (photo by Richard Termine)
The overwhelmingly talented students of the Ellen and James S. Marcus Institute for Vocal Arts at The Juilliard School deserved the thunderous applause given at the end of their production of  Otto Nicolai's opera, based, as so many fine operas are, on a work by Shakespeare.  The Merry Wives of Windsor has produced many iterations, including Salieri's earlier Falstaff (produced recently by Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble) and the subsequent Falstaff by Verdi, a staple in the canon.

Nicolai's version is quite different and filled with interesting characterizations and some of the jauntiest music we have heard in some time. The German composer, co-founder of the Vienna Philharmonic, received his musical education in Italy, and died way too young. His music shows both Italian and German influences.

We wish the term "comic opera" had not been wasted on what we would call "dramas with happy endings". Because this work is truly comic in the best sense of the word. The students, most of them at the graduate level, mined the work for its humor and delivered the lovely vocal lines with equal measure of vocal beauty. The mid-19th c. tradition of bel canto is prominent.

Nicolai himself called the work a "komisch/fantastiche Oper"; it was written in the form of a singspiel, with spoken dialogue. In this case, the spoken dialogue was delivered in English and arranged by Director John Giampietro to include lines from Henry IV (both parts) and from A Midsummer Night's Dream. The young romantic couple Anna (soprano Jessica Niles) and Fenton (tenor John Chongyoon Noh) recite to one another lines spoken by Oberon and Titania.

The production was a clever one; the action remained in Windsor but the time was updated to the 1940's and the action took place in a munitions factory which was owned by the wealthy Spärlich (tenor Matthew Pearce). Working on the bombs at opposing tables were two friends--Frau Fluth (Christine Taylor Price) and Frau Reich (mezzo-soprano Kady Evanyshyn).

The two married women are being simultaneously "courted" by Sir John Falstaff (bass Alex Rosen in a fat suit). The major plot shows how the women get their revenge by humiliating him and how he is forgiven, once he shows remorse, in a burst of community spirit. This theme is particularly relevant today as misbehaving men are being publicly shamed and humiliated by women they have wronged.

In a plot point reminiscent of the Countess Almaviva's revenge on her jealous husband (in Mozart's Nozze di Figaro), Herr Fluth (baritone Hubert Zapiór) gets his comeuppance as well.  There is even a scene where he locks the door before looking for his wife's imagined lover.

Librettist Salomon Hermann von Mosenthal transferred parenthood of young Anna to the Reich's thereby giving them more stage time. Frau Reich has selected a suitor for Anna--Dr. Cajus (bass Andrew Munn with an hilarious French accent); Herr Reich (bass William Guanbo Su) has chosen the aforementioned wealthy owner of the factory.

Anna has a mind of her own and manages to marry Fenton, giving them some gorgeous duets. They seem to have escaped the war between the sexes.

Fleshing out the funny bones of this opera is the most delightfully melodic music. Conductor Teddy Poll kept things moving along at a brisk pace and the four-handed piano reduction was brightly performed by Chris Reynolds and Adam Rothenberg, two of our favorite pianists at Juilliard. They played behind a wall, out of sight.

It would be remiss not to mention the two lovely instrumentalists who accompanied Mr. Cho onstage--violinist Cherry Choi Tung Yeung and Lisa Choi who deftly handled the piccolo part, especially when she imitated the lark.

If we mentioned every musical and dramatic moment that tickled us, we would have to go on for hours, but let us mention just a few.  The Act I duet between Ms. Price (whom we are thinking of as Ms. Pipes) and Ms. Evanyshyn was a perfect representation of what a soprano and mezzo can do with gorgeous intertwining lines.

Mr. Rosen's "serenade" was hilariously pompous. It was quite a thrill to hear three basses in one opera. They were all different and all superb.

Dazzling our ears was Mr. Zapiór's rich and mellow baritone. He was also hilarious stomping around with his cane in a jealous rage and climbing into the laundry basket to look for Falstaff.

Ms. Price nearly stole the show practicing her seductive moves on a factory worker whose facial expressions in response were classic. Her contentious duet with Mr. Zapiór was another highlight.

Ms. Niles' interaction with Mr. Cho was as tender as their singing. Their voices were perfect for the ingenue roles they performed.

Mr. Pearce got some laughs when he agreed to marry Anna whom he thought he might "grow to love in time".  His tenor fell beautifully on the ear.

The chorus of townspeople commenting on the action was well integrated-- Khady Gueye, Brittany Hewitt, Ryan Hurley, Connor Ouly, Shereen Pimental, James Rootring and Maggie Renée Valdman. Mr. Hurley had a brief appearance as Prince Hal and Brittany Hewitt performed Mistress Quickly.

Scenic Designer Alexis Distler created a very believable munitions factory as seen in the photo above, and Kate Ashton lit it cleverly. Audrey Nauman's costumes were appropriate to the time and place, including the head scarves one sees in photos of female factory workers of the time.

As is our wont, we don't read program notes until after the performance, hoping that the production will speak for itself. This one did. We got every nuance that Mr. Giampietro was going for.

Since the performing space was flanked by audience seated on both sides of the room, we had an opportunity to observe the wide smiles on the faces across from us, whenever we could tear our eyes away from the action. It is rare to have that much fun at the opera! It was difficult to tell whether the cast or the audience was enjoying more.

If we have one beef it is only that too few people will get to see this worthy show. It surely deserves a wider audience!

As fine as the piano reduction was written and played, we would love to see this opera again with a full orchestra. Listening to the overture online, we concluded that Nicolai had a wonderful feel for orchestration.

This opera deserves to be right up there with Rossini's comedies!

(c) meche kroop








Wednesday, February 14, 2018

ÜBERWÄLTIGT!

Malcolm Martineau and Dorothea Röschmann

Dear Readers!  Picture your tireless reviewer sitting in Zankel Hall, or at least corporeally, but emotionally in a very private world with Ms. Röschmann and Mr. Martineau, virtually oblivious to the rest of the audience.  Did every audience member feel that way?  We have only the word of our companion who felt similarly transported.

It is rare for lieder to bring those pearly dewdrops to our eyes, especially lieder we have heard many times before with no equivalent effect; yet when we heard this artistic partnership perform Schubert's Mignon songs we gained an expanded emotional connection to Goethe's text, taken from his bildungsroman, Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre.

Since Goethe never acknowledged receipt of these settings, we cannot tell if he was similarly moved or even appreciated what Schubert's genius added.  We do know that "Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt" evoked floods of memories and a mirrored emotional response.  For our companion, it was a different song that grabbed the heart.

Schubert wrote and rewrote these songs, achieving a perfection that was matched by the performance of soprano Dorothea Röschmann and pianist Malcolm Martineau. These two artists so perfectly matched each other in phrasing, dynamics, and style that they seemed like two aspects of the same artist.

Ms. Röschmann's presence is unfussy. She seemed to be a conduit or channel into the mind of Goethe and the heart of Schumann. The exceptional quality of her instrument is, well, selbstverständlich, and always used in the service of the material. We saw several young singers in the audience and hope they took the evening as a lesson in how to give a lieder recital.

Mr. Martineau is a collaborative pianist of the highest order. He manages to bring the singer front and center without fading into the background. His gifted fingers brought out every reference to nature and every emotion.

We also love Mahler's Rückert Lieder and enjoyed the way Ms. Röschmann filled "Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder" with her own personality, by means of physical gesture. What she does in terms of word coloration is remarkable. She seemed to be enjoying the taste of the language, something we also feel when we speak in German. Es ist eine leckere Sprache.

We were particularly drawn to the romantic sentiment of "Ich atmet' einen linden Duft" and the passionate "Liebst du um Schönheit", on which Mahler lavished his most tuneful melodies.

Richard Wagner set poetry written by his lady love Mathilde Wesendonck at the height of their love affair whilst he was composing his opera Tristan und Isolde. We are not in a position to evaluate the worth of her poetry but we can say that we personally love the imagery, the symbolism, and the way it rhymes and scans. It is just the kind of text that gives a composer the opportunity to write beautiful music and Wagner certainly did so.

We were not nearly so taken with Schumann's last song cycle Gedichte der Königen Maria Stuart. This was purported to have been written by Mary Queen of Scots in French and translated into German by Gisbert von Vincke. And therein lies the problem, as we see it. The text seemed clumsy and the rhymes often forced. Missing is Schumann's lavish piano score. Perhaps we might enjoy it after several more hearings but last night it paled in comparison with the rest of the program.

The three encores seemed like generous gifts that arrive after the party ends. They were three in number.  First was Liszt's "Es muss ein wunderbares sein" a paean to love that was well suited to the night before Valentine's Day.  The second was Schumann's "Die Lotosblume ängstigt" in which Heinrich Heine's text describes the lotus flower's love for the moon. Now this is the romantic Schumann we know and love!

The audience clamored for more and we were gifted with a third encore--Hugo Wolf's "In der Fruhe" which is not about love but about nocturnal anxiety giving way to the optimism of the rising of the sun. Möricke's text was well matched by Wolf's music and we left Zankel Hall feeling uplifted and more satisfied than we are usually. A great recital will do that for you!

(c) meche kroop


Sunday, February 11, 2018

GANSON SALMON MASTER'S RECITAL

Brianna Han and Ganson Salmon


Getting a Masters in Music degree from The New School Mannes is a big deal, big enough to draw a highly enthusiastic crowd of fellow students and big enough to bring to New York Mr. Salmon's beautiful Nana--all the way from Indiana! Of course, master teacher Arthur Levy was also in attendance, with everyone bursting with pride. We personally take great pleasure in witnessing the culmination of years of vocal study and the threshold of a professional career.

Mr. Salmon chose an ambitious program, one that showed off his storytelling skills. We long ago lost track of the number of times we have heard Robert Schumann's intense song cycle Dichterliebe, but we always hope to find something new in the songs, rich as they are.

The cycle traces the arc of a love affair gone sour and requires the singer to evoke a wide spectrum of moods and emotions. It is such a general human phenomenon that it is easy to relate to, given a singer who is not afraid of his emotions.  Just such a singer is Mr. Salmon. Accompanied by the superb collaborative pianist Brianna Han, every emotion was explored. Mr. Salmon did not appear to be acting but rather seemed to inhabit the songs from within.

The opening lied "Im wunderschönen Monat Mai" was sung with tender expressivity, achieved by dynamic variety.  In "Aus meinen Tränen spriessen" Mr. Salmon appeared to enjoy the taste of the text, poetry by Heinrich Heine. We loved the coloration on the word "nachtigall". The enthusiastic "Die Rose, die Lilie, die Taube, die Sonne" was filled with energy and excitement, and the singer seemed particularly involved in "Wenn ich in deine Augen seh".

Ms. Han had her chance to shine in the rippling accompaniment Schumann wrote for "Ich will meine Seele tauchen" and the ponderous chords of "Im Rhein, im heiligen Strome".  We always love "Ich grolle nicht" for its bitter irony, well captured by the two artists, the mood recaptured in "Das ist ein Flöten und Geigen" with it's energetic hurdy-gurdy music in the piano.

"Allnächtlich im Traume" was sung with astute recreation of the wonderment of the dream state in which the dreamer fulfills his wishes. In the end he wants to bury his sorrow and his lost love in a coffin and give them a burial at sea.  What a heartbreaker!

The second most impressive part of the recital was the final entry in which Mr. Salmon performed "The Stage", a poem he wrote in college about the particular thrills and chills of expression on the stage, set to music by his lady love Tatev Yeghiazaryan who commanded the piano. We do not know if this was a premiere of the work but we were touched by the sincerity.

According to the composer, she was inspired by Mr. Salmon's words to create a melody and then the harmonies. To our ears, the melodies evoked Armenian folk music in their flexible alternation of modes; the harmonies were original and quite lovely.

Also on the program was the cycle Tre Sonnetti di Petrarca performed with Ms. Han at the piano. She has very soft hands and produced some gorgeous arpeggi in "Pace non trovo" and a marvelous piano interlude in "I vidi in terra".  Mr. Salmon's voice has the loveliest overtones in the middle of the register.

We haven't much to say about Samuel Barber's Knoxville: Summer of 1915, except that 19th c. Germany and Italy felt much more relevant than James Agee's text about 20th c. Kentucky! The text is descriptive and seemed not to inspire a very interesting vocal line. Mr. Salmon brought out the loathed music stand which he seemed not to need!

There are some interesting operatic roles in Mr. Salmon's future and one just passed that we hated to miss--The Fall of the House of Usher. We are sure there will be much to look forward to from this fine young artist.

(c) meche kroop



Monday, February 5, 2018

DESIRE AND DIVINITY

Marisa Michelson

This past week has been one of stretching our boundaries and exposing ourself to different types of theatrical music.  It has gotten us thinking about the intention of the composer in opera.  If one focuses on the history of operatic performance, their composition seems designed to entertain an audience, whether that be an audience of aristocrats or an audience of the bourgeoisie.

Contemporary performance art, on the other hand, seems designed to express something deeply personal in the life of the artist--fears, desires, obsessions, and preoccupations. It is up to the audience to find something with which to relate, and the pleasure of being an audience member depends largely upon his/her willingness to find common ground.

Concerning The Desire/Divinity Project, seen Saturday night at Judson Memorial Church, what we related to the most was Marisa Michelson's original music and the performance of same by her Constellation Chor. Voices floated upward into the cavernous playing space, with overtones bouncing around the hall. There were some gorgeous harmonies and mystical dissonances that put us in a meditative state.

Coincidentally, our interest in theater was born in this space when the late Al Carmines regularly produced unusual pieces of music theater. We warmly recall Ira Siff's performance in The Journey of Snow White. (Memories upon request!)

With our dear Ethan Heard directing and Emma Jaster handling the movement and costuming, we knew the evening would be a worthwhile one. Moreover, the evocative lighting by Elizabeth Mak used hand held spotlights to create eerie shadows on the wall.

As far as the text is concerned, Part I made use of fragments of poetry written two and a half millennia ago by Ancient Greek poet Sappho. Scholars still do not agree about her profession as school mistress or leader of a choral society, nor can they agree about her sexual orientation.  

None of this matters because translating the fragments into English didn't provide much in the way of drama, character development, or storytelling. One might just as well have been listening to nonsense syllables. It all sounded just fine with Ms. Michelson's lovely voice and self-accompaniment on the lyre.  

Dressed in black and sitting on a stool, her  simplicity and commitment were striking. Members of her Constellation Chor spread around the playing area, weaving in and out among the sections of the seating area giving one the feeling of participating in an ancient ritual.

Part II utilized as text a section of the bible known as Song of Songs. This part of the bible is known for its eroticism but, once again, the text was less interesting than the music. (Perhaps it sounds better in Aramaic.) 

For this part of the program, Ms. Michelson exchanged her black garment for a white shift and wrote accompaniment for an interesting combination of instruments--percussion, cello, and various wind instruments including a Bansuri flute.

Ms. Michelson was able to exhibit another of her multiple talents, playing the piano. Her musical language goes beyond words and includes all manner of vocalizing with words and wails receiving equally weight.

We loved Mr. Heard's direction which held our attention throughout, and Ms. Jaster's astute control over the movement which had an archaic feel. 

We understand that there will be a Part III in the future. We wonder what the text will be.

(c) meche kroop