|José Maldonado, Victoria Crutchfield, Thomas Muraco, Shaina Martinez, WooYoung Yoon, Polixeni Tziouvaras, Dongwei Shen, Sungah Baek, and Juan Lázaro|
When Tom Muraco puts on an opera, you tend to show up out of FOMO. To miss one would leave you feeling cheated out of a predictably delightful experience. The operas are astutely chosen, the talented students are wisely cast, and the bare bones style of production allows one to focus on the music. In this case, we had an intense exposure to Mozart's masterpiece of romantic entanglement--Cosi fan tutte.
Maestro Muraco himself conducted and the score for two pianos and harpsichord continuo (actually an electronic keyboard) was devised by the three keyboard artists themselves--Sungah Baek, Juan Lázaro, and Yixin Tan. The three did a great job and we were able to hear compositional elements that we missed when the work was presented with full orchestra. Actually, we think we heard more music. Could it be that some music that is generally cut was restored? Or did our ears deceive us? There is enough music in this opera for two operas!
The students of Manhattan School of Music are as fond of Maestro Muraco as we are. We sat next to the podium as he conducted and can attest to the fact that he knows every word in the libretto and every note of the score. His love for music and for his students was equally obvious.
His partner in crime, the wily Despina was performed by soprano Yesul Yeon whose slender voice was well focused and whose comic chops matched those of Mr. Maldonado. Her featured aria "Una donna a quindici anni" was very well done. We loved the way she exaggerated the rolling of her "r"s.
Since the theme of Lorenzo da Ponte's libretto was fiancé swapping, the opera requires four engaging singers that we can care about, even while laughing at their puerility. As Fiordiligi we had the shining soprano Shaina Martinez who successfully negotiated the wild skips of "Come scoglio". Legend has it that Mozart wrote it thus to make the soprano he disliked bob her head like a chicken, due to the way she sang high and low notes!
As her sister, we heard marvelous mezzo-soprano Polixeni Tziouvaras, who did herself credit in her aria "Smanie implacabili". Mozart made sure that each singer had an aria. Her voice harmonized beautifully with that of Ms. Martinez, especially in "Prenderó quel brunettino". Mozart made sure that there were also plenty of duets, trios, quartets, etc.
Tenor WooYoung Yoon has a pleasant ringing tenor and created a fine Ferrando; we enjoyed his voice most in "Tradito, schernito"; he had some splendid duets with baritone Dongwei Shen who excelled as Guglielmo. His aria "Donne mie, la fate a tanti" was beautifully rendered in all of its angst. The voices of the two men blended as successfully as those of the women.
One of our favorite ensemble pieces, "Soave sia il vento" was gorgeously sung by Mr. Maldonado, Ms. Martinez and Ms. Tziouvaras. We could not have been more pleased with the musical elements.
But what about the production elements. As we indicated, this is a bare bones production and Director Victoria Crutchfield did well for the most part in the interactions among the singers. We loved the way the chorus (all excellent, by the way) moved the "furniture" (just a bench, a table, and some chairs) with Despina in charge, pounding the floor to summon the furniture movers for a scene change, which always seemed to involve lifting things over her head.
Our only quibble was with a few anachronisms. Probably to avoid the cost of costuming, the action seems to have been moved to the present, what with the cell phones and contemporary clothing. So why did the women carry 18th c. parasols? The "Albanians" became "hipsters from Williamsburg and Tribeca". Anyone from New York would know that Tribeca is populated by very wealthy Wall Streeters. You'd be hard pressed to find a hipster there. Better to have used Bed-Stuy or Bushwick.
For those of us who understand Italian, hearing one thing and seeing titles saying something else creates a momentary lapse of concentration and involvement. A "brunettino" is a man with dark hair, NOT a man in spectacles! These disjunctions are occurring more and more as operas are squeezed into time periods that do not fit.
Minor criticisms aside, it was a fun evening and made us realize that we have more in common with the 18th c. Viennese than with the 19th c. audience which found this opera vulgar and scandalous.
There will be a repeat performance on Sunday matinée with a different but presumably equally talented cast.
(c) meche kroop
Saturday, March 24, 2018
Friday, March 23, 2018
|Chris Reynolds and Natalia Kutateladze|
|Chris Reynolds and Felicia Moore|
Last night we attended the Juilliard Vocal Arts Honors Recital at Alice Tully Hall. Voice teachers nominate singers to audition for this honor and the competition is keen. One of the judges happened to be Jennifer Zetlan, a Juilliard alumna whom we just reviewed last night in On Site Opera's Morning Star.
Each singer chose her own program and both were accompanied by the talented collaborative pianist Chris Reynolds.
The ravishing mezzo-soprano Natalia Kutateladze opened her half of the program with a chanson by Jules Massenet; The text by Louis Pierre Gabriel Bernard Morel-Retz, entitled "Amoureuses" was highly romantic and Ms. Kutateladze performed it in perfect French with spot-on phrasing.
A set of songs by Tchaikovsky showed how they sound at their very best, sung by someone so comfortable in the language that the songs are more inhabited than performed. Although we do not speak or understand Russian, we were able to appreciate the marvelous marriage of music and text.
"None but the Lonely Heart" is a setting of a Russian translation of Goethe's text "Nur wer die sehnsucht kennt" from Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre, a text so potent that it appealed to a list of composers longer than the text. We mostly know it as one of the Mignon songs.
"Was I Not a Blade of Grass in the Field?" struck us with the sadness of a young woman married off to a man she does not love. She compares herself to a blade of grass that was mowed down.
Tolstoy's text "Amidst the Din of the Ball" motivated Tchaikovsky to write a most marvelous and memorable melody. A man sees a woman at a ball and thinks he has fallen in love with her.
With all that gorgeous melody, we still think the Pushkin text "Don't Sing to Me, My Beauty" is our favorite Russian song. Rachmaninoff gave it a haunting melody that could make anyone homesick. Each and every one of these Russian songs was sung with artistry and deep emotional commitment.
The final set on the program comprised Manuel de Falla's Siete canciones populares españolas. The advantage for us was that we understand Spanish and thus were able to appreciate Ms. Kutateladze's skill for word coloration and the creation of a mood. We adore this cycle, the first song of which gives us an ironic metaphor for men's negative attitude towards women's sexual expression. "El Paño Moruno" describes a cloth that has lost its value because of a stain.
The same judgmental attitude appears in "Seguidilla murciana", only this time the metaphor is a coin that has passed from hand to hand so much that it has become blurry and no one will accept it!
"Asturiana" is a song of deep sorrow and the search for consolation in nature, whereas "Nana" is a tender lullaby. "Canción" tells of lost love in a mournful way, whilst "Polo" tells of lost love in an angry bitter way.
It was a revelation to hear Ms. Kutateladze create the right mood for each song and to color each important word in a way that extracted every ounce of significance. With her gorgeous instrument, vital stage presence, intense involvement, and consummate musicianship, this is an artist to watch, one destined for stardom. Watch for her in the upcoming Juilliard Opera next month.
Soprano Felicia Moore walks onstage with such presence that one knows in advance that one is in for a treat. Of course, having heard her many times before, we have advance knowledge. We can tell when a singer loves to sing!
One doesn't get enough Sibelius at song recitals so we were happy that Ms. Moore decided to invest so much energy into learning to sing in Swedish. From Five Songs, Op. 37, she sang one we'd never heard "Soluppgång", and two we know and love.
"Flickan kom ifrån sin älsklings mote" tells of a girl who hides the signs of a lovers' meeting from her mother until she suffers from her lover's abandonment. "Var det en dröm" is a song of nostalgia in which the poet recalls his lost love as a dream. Ms. Moore invested each song with depth and meaning.
Her gleaming instrument was put to good use in songs from Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder. We particularly loved the way collaborative pianist Chris Reynolds created a meditative mood for "Im Treibhaus" in which Wesendonck uses the metaphor of plants in a hothouse to represent the feelings of someone who is far from their homeland. We speculated that she herself was away from home but we were wrong. She was German through and through.
In "Stehe still!", Mr. Reynolds hands created the pianistic equivalent of a perpetual motion machine, indicating the rushing of time. Ms. Moore responded in beautiful partnership. By the fourth verse, things have calmed down and both artists responded with lyricism to the concept of souls sinking into each other.
"Traume" recreates the evanescent world of dreams in a highly poetic way and gave Ms. Moore another opportunity to create a sound world of delicacy.
Her program ended with selections from Aaron Copland's Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson. We confess to no great love for poet or composer, which didn't stop us from appreciating Ms. Moore's superb performance. There were little touches that lent a high degree of artistry such as the enhanced vibrato on the final word of "Nature, the Gentlest Mother" and the way she left the final note of "The Chariot" hanging in the air.
The cutest song was the most timely--"Dear March, Come In!" a cute sentiment that made us want to like Dickinson more than we do. It is just a fact that each of us has his/her taste and ours leans toward any language but English and any period prior to (but including) Richard Strauss!
That being said, Copland wrote some very interesting figures for the piano part of "Nature, the Gentlest Mother", and Mr. Reynolds' smashing piano technique and interpretive artistry brought them out.
Like nearly all the singers coming out of Juilliard Vocal Arts Department, Ms. Moore evinces those Juilliard qualities--presence, dramatic skills, expressive vocal technique, fine phrasing, and linguistic skills. There must be something in the water!
(c) meche kroop