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, October 27, 2012


So, Escamillo strides cockily down the center aisle of the ravishing St. Ann's Church in Brooklyn Heights and kisses the critic's hand.  "Oh", we think, "this evening had better be good because it would be very difficult to criticize after that winning gesture".  Fortunately, it was good.  It was very good.  The entire evening, presented by the Brooklyn Symphony Orchestra and New York Opera Exchange (strangely uncredited in the program) was delightful, comprising scenes from operas you know and love, and will be repeated this Sunday at 3PM.  Consider yourself urged to attend and to bring friends who aren't sure they will like opera.  They will leave thanking you and looking forward to more opera.

Under the baton of Nicholas Armstrong for the past 14 years, the Brooklyn Symphony Orchestra has become known as one of the finest community orchestras in New York; they showed up best in the Prelude to Verdi's La Traviata in which the themes were clearly articulated and well contrasted.

Since we do not have a TV, nor have ever had one, we are not tired of hearing the "Flower Duet" from Lakme.  Last night it was beautifully sung by soprano Candace Matthews who has a lovely "ping" (not to mention a glamorous gown) and mezzo Kate Wiswell whose fine vibrato was well-remembered from her performance last season as Dorabella in Cosi Fan Tutte.  The two voices blended well and soared above the sizable orchestra.

Next we heard a rather raucous reading of the Bacchanale from Samson et Dalila by Camille Saint-Saëns, complete with clashing cymbals.  The first half of the program ended with the Act I finale of Rossini's L'Italiana in Algeri.  Who doesn't love Rossini's wild and crazy ensembles!  In this case, the embellishments were well-articulated and the voices well balanced across the board.  The clever Isabella was performed by mezzo Nichole Peyreigne who left no doubt that she is a true mezzo, not a soprano with a good lower range.  Her superb performance was matched by the fine baritone of Joseph Beckwith as Mustafa.  In this role, a slim handsome baritone in a dinner jacket must convince us that he is a fat unwholesome pasha; that's a stretch but his singing compensated for it.  Tenor Aaron Short made a fine Lindoro; we remember him from several performances at Manhattan School of Music.  John Erban sang Taddeo, Haly was sung by Douglas Balkin, Elvira was sung by Alexandra Lang and Zulma by Natasha Nelson; all were excellent and each held his/her own.

The second half of the program was entirely operatic, comprising scenes from Act II of Carmen by Georges Bizet and the Act II finale of Gaetano Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor.  The cast of Carmen managed a semi-staged performance without a stage by means of some well-considered acting.  Nicholle Bittlingmeyer's Carmen handled the eponymous heroine's initial lovelorn state and her final contempt for Don Jose with equal aplomb.  Her sequined red gown and fiery mien made the whole scene believable.  The aforementioned Escamillo was sung by Robert Balonek whose finely honed baritone won him a grant from Opera Index.  Scott Ingram made an ardent Don Jose and avoided being pitiable.  The Dancaire of Paul Khuri-Yakub and the Remendado of Francisco Corredor made an excellent and humorous quartet with Frasquita and Mercedes.  The role of Mercedes was sung by Natasha Nelson, well-remembered from her performance as Despina in last season's Cosi fan Tutte while Frasquita was sung by soprano Alexandra Lang; the two gals seemed to have a lot of fun with their roles.

The program closed with the tragic nuptial scene of Lucia.  Selfish brother Enrico was sung by the generous-voiced Joseph Beckwith who was not here obliged to convince anyone that he was a fat Pasha.  Arturo, the hapless husband, was sung by Justin Werner; Edgardo, the equally hapless lover was sung by Aaron Short; John Erban sang Raimondo. The emotional confrontation was quite affecting.  Poor Lucia was sung by Rebecca Shorstein.

We remain impressed by the high quality of the emerging artists who find their way to New York Opera Exchange.  Stay tuned for more information on their season.

©meche kroop

Monday, October 22, 2012


Franz Schubert in Youth
Born 3 years before the advent of the 19th c. the young Schubert, here depicted, wrote 140 songs in 1815 alone!  It seems the music just poured out of him; in similar fashion the music seemed to pour out of the young artists onstage last night as Schubert&Co. continued their year-long exploration of his entire vocal oeuvre.  The series is not only entertaining but also educational as Lachlan Glen, one of the series' two Artistic Directors, generously shared his love and appreciation for the music.  Focusing on settings of poetry by Ludwig Gotthard Kosegarten, Friedrich Leopold, Alexander Pope, Colley Cibber and Abraham Cowley, the final three having been translated into German, many of the lieder are on the theme of nature.  Although Schubert had requested the German translations to follow the syllabification of the original English, it is clear, as Mr. Glen pointed out, that the accents fall in different places.  We were happy to hear them sung in German which suits the music better.

The program began and ended with the lovely Australian soprano Simone Easthope who delighted us with her shimmery voice that created a perfect picture in the mind's eye.  We especially enjoyed "Daphne am Bach, D.411" which had a familiar sound, reminding us of "Die Forelle" and "Auf dem Wasser zu singen, D.774" a strophic lied with many shifts between major and minor, and the only song of the evening that we had previously heard.

Being introduced to tenor Nils Neubert was an unexpected treat.  Mr. Neubert has an incredibly sweet voice and the choice of songs with sweet melodies was a wise one.  We particularly enjoyed "Alles um Liebe, D.241" and observed that he had no trouble with the low notes at the ends of some of the other songs.  We also enjoyed the optimism of "Der Blinde Knabe, D.833" and enjoyed his appealing vibrato.

Bass-baaritone Andrew Bogard has a sturdy voice and we loved the way he evinced some unexpected tenderness without sacrificing the tone, especially in the joyful song of love fulfilled "Das Finden D.219"; we also noted his way with humor in "Der Weiberfreund, D.271".

Soprano Julia Bullock sounded best in the relatively more cheerful songs "Morgenlied, D.266" and "Abendlied, D.276".

Mr. Glen was the piano partner for all four singers, playing with his customary sensitivity and terrific technique.  His playing was most powerful in "Verklärung D.59" and most notable in the final piece "Auf dem Wasser zu singen, D.774" in which one could hear the waves and almost feel the water.

This was the only performance of the series to take place in the new Opera Center on Seventh Avenue.  The room was perfectly intimate with superlative acoustics and a fine piano.  We noticed several studios and performance spaces and would like to learn more about the space.  Next Sunday's 6PM recital will return to  Central Presbyterian Church at 64th and Park Avenue.  Another winner, for sure!

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, October 20, 2012


Our favorite thing to do in this glorious city is to discover new talent; what better place to do this than The Juilliard School!  Even in the undergraduate division there are gifted young singers and accompanists; one can see the raw talent and just know that success lies down the road for these young people.

On many Thursday afternoons at 6PM one can attend a Liederabend featuring students from the Ellen and James S. Marcus Institute for Vocal Arts and Collaborative Piano Departments, along with faculty members and students there to cheer on their classmates.  These recitals never disappoint.

Last Thursday we enjoyed tenor Sammy Huh performing Beethoven's song cycle An Die Ferne Geliebte, Op.98. accompanied by Kristen Doering.  Prior to Schubert, songs were often folksy and Mr. Huh sang them with sincerity and admirable simplicity, not neglecting dynamics, pacing or fine German diction.

Accompanied by Siyi Fang's delicate touch on the keys, bass-baritone Davone Tines performed four Schumann songs; he is a fine storyteller, excelling in "Belsatzar" and "Der Hans und die Grete tanzen herum", mining all the inherent drama.

Soprano Laura LeVoir showed charming Gallic flair as she spun out the long legato lines in selections from Debussy's Ariettes Oubliée.  We especially enjoyed "Green".  Her piano partner was Luis Ortiz.

Tenor Martin Bakari sang four songs by Liszt, charming us with one of our favorite melodies "O lieb, so lang du lieben kannst" which he invested with a great deal of passion.  We would like to see him lose his fear of the final "ch" sound and give it its due.  Bretton Brown's piano part was lovely, evoking the sound of the river in "Im Rhein,im schöne Strome".

The program ended on a high note, so to speak, with soprano Lara Secord-Haid showing a wonderful feel for the four selections from Richard Strauss' Brentano Lieder, Op.68.  Her voice is rich at the bottom and swells to a resonant pingy top.  We especially enjoyed "Ich wollt ein Sträusslein binden", in which Ms. Secord-Haid negotiated the many skips with aplomb.  Her stage presence was a pleasure to behold.

It would appear that much credit goes to Margo Garrett who coached these young singers.  Let it be said that the diction was quite excellent in nearly all cases.  We would regret missing any of these superb Liederabends.

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


Hai-Ting Chinn
There was no moon in the sky last night;  the moon was having its way with the audience at 5BMF's eye and ear-opening presentation of The Pierrot Project at The Performing Garage.  For those of you not yet in-the-know, 5BMF stands for Five Boroughs Music Festival which was founded in 2007 by Artistic Director Jesse Blumberg and Executive Director Donna Breitzer to bring exemplary musical performances to all parts of New York City--presentations that are intimate,affordable,  original in concept and always worthwhile.

The Pierrot Project focused on the music of the early 20th century in celebration of the 100th anniversary of Arnold Schoenberg's ground-breaking chamber work Pierrot Lunaire.  On the brink of World War I, the world would never be the same; surrealism was blossoming in the arts and strange risks were being taken in the world of music. 

In mezzo-soprano Hai-Ting Chinn we had, not only a supremely gifted performer but a charming educator who laid the groundwork for our better understanding of this strange and beautiful work as it relates to the Pierrot character of commedia del'arte.  To ease into the work, we heard the highly accessible "Syrinx" by Claude Debussy, in which the luminous playing of flutist Jennifer Grim led us to realize how like the human voice the flute is.  Words such as "on the breath", "legato" and "messa di voce" kept coming into our head.

Less familiar to the ear were Alban Berg's "Vier Stücke, Op.5" and "Sechs kleine Klavierstücke, Op.19" by Schoenberg.  The pieces are brief and feel unconsummated.  The works are atonal but predate Schoenberg's experimentation with the 12-tone system.  They were performed by James Johnston the pianist of The Proteus Ensemble, of which Ms. Grim is also a member.

After a brief pause, Ms. Chinn reappeared in a costume that Rudy Gernreich might have designed in the 60's--a loose tent of white net sprinkled with large polka dots and a large floppy white bow in her hair.  She looked absolutely adorable as a female representation of Pierrot and gave a most memorable performance of the 21 poems comprising the 1912 work.  The work has an interesting history which was explained by Ms. Chinn. 

In 1884 Albert Giraud wrote the cycle of poems which were later translated into German by Otto Erich Hartleben.  The music was commissioned by the actress Albertine Zehme who performed it in sprechgesang, maintaining rhythm and pitch, giving the work the feel of cabaret.  The original piano score was expanded for an ensemble of 5 instrumentalists.  Aside from the aforementioned pianist and Ms. Grim who doubled on piccolo, Yuko Naito played the violin and viola, Brian Snow played the cello, and Alexey Gorokholinsky played clarinet, doubling on bass clarinet to fine effect.

But the success of the work rested largely on the slim shoulders of the petite Ms. Chinn who used her large eyes and expressive face along with her flexible voice to paint pictures that danced before our very eyes.  We could not imagine a finer performance.  The audience was spellbound.

We can barely wait to see what 5BMF comes up with next.

(c) meche kroop

Monday, October 15, 2012


Licia Albanese
What better way to celebrate the 100th birthday of incomparable soprano Licia Albanese than a concert of winners of the 2012 International Vocal Competition presented by the 38 year old Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation.  Signora Albanese herself came onstage to the delight of her adoring public; she was acknowledged not only for her brilliant career but also for the many gifts she conferred on students via master classes, coaching and financial help from the Foundation.  How many times in one's life does one get to honor a great lady on her centennial birthday!

On hand as hosts were WQXR's Midge Woolsey and Robert Sherman.  Wielding the baton for the Musica Sacra Orchestra was Kent Tritle; Arlene Schrut presided over the piano with her customary excellence.  Interspersed between the arias performed by the competition winners were arias by three recipients of the Distinguished Achievement Awards who graciously performed; tenor Michael Fabiano sang "Federico's Lament" from Cilea's L'Arlesiano, mezzo Isabel Leonard performed a song from Lerner and Loewe's Camelot and soprano Latonia Moore sang "Un bel di" from Puccini's Madama Butterfly.  It is difficult to imagine three finer performances.  Also performing was tenor Ricardo Tamura, recently signed by The Metropolitan Opera, who put heart and soul into "Vesti la giubba" from Leoncavallo's "I Pagliacci".

As far as the competition winners, we applaud the judges for their fine choices.  The Top Award went to soprano Kiri Deonarine who closed the program with the duet "Tutte le feste al tempio" from Verdi's Rigoletto; a special treat was the appearance of her very own father baritone Kim Josephson singing the role of Rigoletto!  First prize was awarded to Zachary Nelson whose sizable baritone and passionate delivery were brought to bear on Giordano's "Nemico della patria" from Andrea Chenier.

Fifth Prize winner Alexander W. Lewis used his flexible tenor and charming personality on the audience-thrilling "Ah mes amis" from Donizetti's La Fille du Regiment.  Many of the grant winners are known to us and managed to delight us with their continuing growth.  We were particularly struck by the duet "Au fond du temple saint" from Bizet's Les Pêcheurs du Perles, sung by tenor Noah Baetge and baritone Takaoki Onishi, whose voices melded mellifluously and sailed above the orchestra.  The same could be said for tenor Eric Margiore and baritone Steven LaBrie who sang "In un coupé" from Puccini's La Boheme.

In Donizetti's "Bella siccome un angelo" from Donizetti's Don Pasquale, baritone Tobias Greenhalgh did a fine job of fooling the eponymous "hero", using a great deal of charm as well as a delicate portamento and liquid trill, not to mention a graceful messa di voce.  Soprano Ashley Harrington and tenor Zach Borichevsky performed the moving "O soave fanciulla" from Puccini's La Boheme in a manner that recreated the entire meeting in our mind's eye.  As Enrico, the brother we love to hate in Lucia de Lammermoor, baritone Nicholas Pallesen did justice to "Cruda, funesta smania".

We also enjoyed being introduced to a few rising stars we hadn't heard before.  Baritone Anthony C. Evans sang "Si può, si può" as a charming introduction to Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci.  A century ago, we might have been in the audience of an Italian village, waiting for the visiting players.  Baritone Norman Garrett sang "O Carlo ascolta" from Verdi's Don Carlo with a beautiful legato and deep feeling.  Soprano Kearstin Piper Brown sang "Summertime" from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess; she has a lovely "ping" in her voice.  Tenor Jonathan Winell has a pleasing voice and sang "Avete torto" from Puccini's Gianni Schicchi.

A number of prize winners were unable to appear, due to illness or employment elsewhere.  We particularly missed hearing soprano Audrey Luna, tenor Luigi Boccia and bass Scott Conner, winners of the second, third and fourth prizes respectively,  and grant winners baritones John Brancy and Alexander Hajek.  We wish to congratulate all the winners, the judges for their difficult task and good judgment, the Foundation for making it happen, and above all to honor our dear Licia Albanese who has done so much to keep the operatic tradition going in our country. 

(c) meche kroop

Monday, October 8, 2012


James Barbato
Jazimina MacNeil
Kelly Markgraf
Mary Feminear
Another splendid recital last night by Schubert&Co. gave four talented young singers an opportunity to show how Schubert tailored his music to fit the poetry he was setting.  The poets on this program comprised Johann Georg Jacobi, Friedrich von Hardenberg (otherwise known as "Novalis"), Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart and Marianne van Willemer.  Most of the poetry appears to have been written in the latter half of the 18th c. or early 19th c.; favorite topics seems to be love, fulfilled or frustrated, and religious faith. 

Baritone Kelly Markgraf opened the program with songs of romantic love fulfilled--An Chloen and Hochzeitlied.  His fine large voice filled Central Presbyterian Church with resounding joy while his powerful stage presence lent credibility to the text.  It must be noted that Mr. Markgraf's German is superlative; we are always grateful when the singer is unafraid of the final "ch" or "g".  So many singers try to fake it or ignore it.

Mezzo Jazimina (we LOVE that name) Macneil has a most pleasant voice and sang Jacobi's "In der Mitternacht" and Novalis' "Nachthymne" as well as sharing Novalis' cycle of four hymns with Mr. Markgraf.

In the second half of the program we heard tenor James Barbato singing some rather sad songs by Jacobi and Schubart; his voice is particularly affecting in the middle of his range.  Soprano Mary Feminear introduced us to a charming song by Schubart "An mein Klavier", a love song to a piano.  But she really shone in the Suleika songs of von Willemer in which she gave herself over to the ecstasy of the words and music.

As usual, artistic co-directors of Schubert@Co. Lachlan Glen and Jonathan Ware served as piano partners.  Their pianism is flawless and always makes it clear what Schubert wanted to say in his writing.  We want to acknowledge them once more for giving us the opportunity to hear some lesser known lieder.  They all deserve to be more widely performed.

We are eagerly awaiting the next installment of this exhaustive perusal of Schubert's vocal oeuvre.  Schedule is available on their website.

(c) meche kroop